San Francisco’s Secret Wildlife - Atlas Obscura
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San Francisco’s Secret Wildlife

Standard issue urban wildlife of San Francisco: tree squirrels, fine. Pigeons? Check. Bison? You betcha. And that’s not all.

Over the years the city has become home to some unique urban populations of unusual animals who have settled in for the long haul. Here’s three to watch for:

Golden Gate Park Bison Herd

San Francisco Bison
photograph by seliya/Flickr user

Five female bison live in a large paddock in the middle of Golden Gate Park. They were first introduced by the park’s legendary nature loving superintendent John McLaren in 1890, and have been there ever since.

When the first two American Bison were brought to the park, the species was in serious decline after decades of sport hunting on the Great Plains. McLaren gave a small herd a home in the new park in the hopes that they would breed. He named the first two for the president and a showgirl, and all the bison thereafter have have maintained a tradition of inspired names from Shakespeare to Lady Di.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

article-image
photograph by Eliya Selhub

Flocks of red and green parrots are a familiar sight around the San Francisco waterfront. They hang out in the palm trees near the ferry building and on the hill near Dolores Park, but they are most famous for their home in the tress surrounding Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. The red-masked parakeets are exotic animals, and most likely started out as pets; the flocks are now as large as 300 birds, and can be seen (and heard) daily.

Peregrine Falcons

San Francisco Peregrines
photograph by brothergrimm/Flickr user

Like the bison, when the peregrines first moved to the Bay Area, they were in trouble. The population had plummeted in the 1970s after DDT use weakened their eggs’ shells, leaving California with just two known breeding pairs, and a complete void of sightings on the East Coast.

Since 1983, the PG&E building downtown has been host to a nesting box, and the program has been such a success that in 1999 the birds were taken off the National Endangered Species List. Today, if you are lucky, you can spot them hanging out on downtown perches or on the catwalks of the Bay Bridge. Or, you can just check out the online nest-cam.