Lodgers Flock to San Francisco Bird Hotel

Despite her cool demeanor, Birgit Soyka is not impervious to the clatter around her; the chirping, the singing, the squawking - random voices and mysterious cell phones chimes.

No. Even she has a breaking point.

"Sometimes it gets on my hearing," said Soyka wheeling a food cart among dozens of bird cages. "So I wear earplugs."

The infernal cacophony is her own doing. Eight years ago, the avid bird owner concluded other vacation-bound Bay Area bird owners needed a safe, reliable place to temporarily lodge their pets. So she started the San Francisco Bird Hotel.

"I started in 2006 with one little bird,” Soyka said. “It was all in my house."

Since then, she moved her business to an industrial park, a four-minute drive from SFO. The rotating cast of feathered clients has grown to a flock of more than 400, including Macaws, Amazon and African Grey parrots. Which is where things get loud.

"They talk in men’s voices and women voices," said Soyka, offering her head as a roost for a white parrot. "Then they do ring tones, microwaves. It’s like oh my god, who was that?"

The clamor of dozens of birds united in vocal celebration hits its nadir during the morning breakfast rounds. Soyka prepares individual meals for each bird - based on their food whimsies. The menu includes fresh fruit, seeds and bits of egg. She wheels a cart through the main room, delivering meals and human cooing for each guest. "We serve food a la carte," she said, stuffing a bowl of seeds inside a cage.

As Soyka flitted around the room, a rebellious macaw named Diamond used his beak to upend his bowl, dumping a cascade of bird seed onto the floor. Soyka calmly grabbed a broom, well-acquainted with the whims of her moody charges.

"I have a connection with every one," Soyka said. "I speak to them all and they talk to me."

Soyka gives each bird as much time out of its cage as she can - careful not to mix rival factions. A back warehouse serves as a luxurious hangar where birds can stretch their wings.

"Birgit knows the birds," said customer Patricia Cericola, dropping off her parrot. "She knows their personalities. She loves birds."

The number of lodgers has tripled over the last few years, more than Soyka can handle alone. She now employs two people to help with the rounds - placing fresh newspaper in the cages and helping deliver the meals. She even has a "parrot limo," a car she uses to pick-up the birds.

As Soyka made her rounds, a pair of birds took up lodging on her head and shoulders. An Amazon named Jesse began singing opera, the blaring vibrato sounding as if it was pumped from a tiny AM radio. Soyka leaned into toward the cage - countering with her own warbled singing.

"Well I walk into this place every morning," she said. “I’m thinking ‘Oh my God, what did I create?'"

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