San Francisco Airport Marriott Gives a Hoot for Barn Owls

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Two of the adorable barn owl babies at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront (photo by Beth Pratt)
Last year a guest at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront reported a rather unusual visitor to hotel management. People staying at the hotel expect views of the San Francisco Bay from their rooms, but they didn’t anticipate opening their window curtains and seeing two barn owl parents feeding ridiculously adorable baby owls.

Many businesses might have treated the owls as pests and removed them, but the Marriott staff chose instead to roll out the welcome mat to the family. Clif Clark, the general manager of the property, said they never even considered disturbing the owls, “The hotel is by the bay and we embrace the beautiful nature at our location.”

The treatment the owls received must have been excellent as they returned again this year to the same place.  “Like other loyal customers, the Barn Owl family seems to like to come back year after year because of our great service and the great features of this destination,” Clark joked.

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The “Hoot Suite” where the barn owl family nests.(photo by Beth Pratt)
The owl parents have made the small ledge outside the window of room 1141, nicknamed the “Hoot Suite,” a nursery for four owlets. And the hotel employees have embraced their role as nursery caretakers. They educate guests about their avian roommates and how to be kind to these feathered friends (don’t open the window or flash light at the owls), and offer a gift pack for children who stay in the Hoot Suite that includes a stuffed animal owl. “I always love showing our younger guests the baby owls and giving them a toy owl to keep as a memory of the event,” said Clark.

Watch a video of the baby owls:


After seeing the photos of the baby owls on social media, I asked the hotel for a tour. Director of Operations, Dean Waziry, accompanied me and patiently stood by as I oohed and aahed over the impossible to resist fluffy baby owls. “I never get tired of looking at them either,” he commented, “we love having them at our hotel.” Even though I see wildlife on a regular basis, I’ll admit I could have watched the captivating owls for hours. Two of them napped, while the other two gazed at me through the window with hopeful expressions, perhaps wondering if I had some rodents to feed them.

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Baby barn owls looking for room service (photo courtesy San Francisco Marriott)
The owlets’ room service would not arrive until later that evening, as barn owls are entirely nocturnal and stalk their prey in the night world. Although they have excellent vision in the dark, David Lukas, author of Wild Birds of California, notes that barn owls possess “the most refined ability to locate prey by sound of any animal ever tested.”  The most widespread of all owls in the world, barns owls are easily identified by their ghostly white color, heart-shaped face, and a raspy, screeching call.

Although they are the most common owl, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology notes “their numbers seem to be in decline over much of North America (and Europe).” As per their namesake, barn owls like to frequent barns and other human-made structures. But you don’t need a barn or a hotel building to create a home for these owls, who also provide excellent natural rodent control. Build it and they will come! Place a nest box on a tree or a pole in your yard and you might soon have a nesting family of your own.

As barn owls often nest in the same place each year, it’s likely these owls may now consider the Marriott a regular destination. Clark says to recognize their choice, he “plans to present the family with a Marriott Rewards® membership card.” And for adopting the owl family—and making their hotel wildlife friendly—the San Francisco Airport Marriott is now a proud member of NWF’s Certified Wildlife Habitat program.

“What’s better than getting to see baby owls up close?  It’s so encouraging when corporations like Marriott see the value in wildlife and the joy wildlife watching brings to their customers,” said NWF’s Naturalist David Mizewkski, who oversees the Certified Habitat program.

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NWF’s California Director Beth Pratt presents San Francisco Marriott’s Director of Operations Dean Waziry with a Certified Wildlife Habitat sign.
For the staff and guests, the owls have now become a regular part of the hotel experience when they are nesting. “Many times I have seen the owl parents around dusk.  It is great viewing while sitting at our outdoor fire pits that overlook the Bay.” And here is a chance to see the owls for free: the Marriott has also just launched the Hoo’s Hoo contest where you can help name their loyal barn owl guests on Facebook and win a weekend stay and dinner at the hotel.

The owls have become so popular that people have even begun to request the Hoot Suite when making reservations. As hotel amenities go, a live viewing of cute baby owls certainly outranks free HBO or Wi-Fi, although TripAdvisor does not yet have a designation for owl watching. Forget spas, perhaps wildlife viewing can be the next must-have offering for a hotel? This is fine with Clark. “We have plenty of space for more owl families.” And what other critters would he like to welcome next? “Maybe an eagle family would be nice.”

UPDATE: July 19, 2013: A second barn owl family checks into the Marriott!

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The second barn owl family at the San Francisco Airport Marriott (photo courtesy Karla Vogtman)
The barn owls must be posting high ratings on TripAdvisor!  General manager Clif Clark emailed me yesterday and told me a staff member discovered a second barn owl family nesting in room 1043. And Marriott is giving them a warm welcome as well. As Clark said in my last blog post, “we have plenty of space for more owl families.”

Clark isn’t sure how this new family heard about his hotel. “I don’t know if the owl family referred a friend to stay at our retreat by the Bay or perhaps it is one of last year’s owlets that said…’it was a good place to grow up, so I wanted to raise my family there too!  You can’t beat the view and the service!’ ”  Perhaps word got out that the property is now an NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat®?

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Hey, we heard the owls in 1141 get room service! (photo courtesy Karla Vogtman)

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