Birgit Soyka stands in a large warehouse amongst 68 bird cages, each holding an exotic bird. The walls are covered in photos of brightly colored parrots, and bird-shaped tchotchkes dot the room. She cradles Boogie, a Congo African gray, and a regular guest at the San Francisco Bird Hotel, a spa and resort for birds.
“Hi Boogie,” Soyka says; the bird coos in response.
As the owner of the San Francisco Bird Hotel, Soyka takes care of Boogie and up to 150 other birds at a time. Her bird-boarding business started back in 2006, when Soyka, who says she’s always loved birds, agreed to “bird sit” a friend’s pet.
“It was the beginning of a big snowball and avalanche,” Soyka says. “Out of this one bird came three birds, then 10 birds, then 100 birds.”
In 2014, her small business turned into a full-blown bird spa and resort. At the Bird Hotel, all the cages are named after castles around the world; there’s Charlottenburg Palace, Hearst Castle and the Taj Mahal, just to name a few.
There are salon services such as grooming and feather-dyeing, and Soyka even hosts bird parties, where all the birds are let out of their cage to dance to music. Birgit turns on the radio; the birds cock their heads, ruffle their feathers and start to bop up and down to the rhythm in unison.
These birds are loud. The noise can be deafening and relentless. “I spend so much time here, especially with the cockatoos, their frequencies are so high they can sometimes hurt,” Soyka says. “When you’re here all day long it’s better when you protect your hearing, I’m already crazy enough I guess!”
Haig Movsesian says his white cockatiel, Angel, likes it at Bird Hotel. “I know when she’s happy by the noises she makes. She makes a little ‘coo coo’ sound,” he says.
Soyka is affectionate with her guests -- she often walks around with the birds on her shoulders, kissing their beaks and letting them crawl all over her parrot-themed T-shirt.
“I admire them for their wings, for their brains, for their intelligence, the colors, their behaviors. But the wings [are] probably the most intriguing thing, because they have this freedom I always was looking for and craving for, and I think I can identify with a bird quite well,” Soyka says. “And of course the philosophical part that they can fly and look at the world from above and just fly away, we cannot do that.”
Soyka gets as close as she can to flying away with her other passion; competitive motorcycle racing.
“When you're on a motorcycle,” Soyka says, “you have that freedom, the speed, the wind, you can think, you’re alone ... basically, you have wings.”
When Soyka quit her corporate job to do what she loved full time; run the Bird Hotel. But, as every entrepreneur knows, running your own business is hard. And Soyka realizes that, in the end, maybe this has kept her own wings clipped.
“People don’t realize that, that’s something I have actually sacrificed over the Bird Hotel — my freedom,” Soyka says. “There’s an irony to this whole thing, because I admire them for their freedom, but we’re actually all stuck!”
In the back of the warehouse, Soyka keeps her motorcycle, a BMW F800.
“Once I do have the time,” Soyka says, “I need around 3 months, I would like to ride up to Alaska and back. That’s the plan and we’ll see if it comes ... but right now certainly not because I’m still with the birds. And everything is for the birds. “
Soyka walks up to Basil, a yellow-collared macaw. “Hi Basil,” she says. “What a pretty bird!” Basil chirps back. She laughs. To Soyka, every bird is a pretty bird.
This story was inspired by the San Francisco Chronicle article “The Regulars: S.F. Bird Hotel owner finds freedom in creating her business.”