Workers carrying out interior demolition work at the former Hyatt Hotel in Grand Cayman found some unexpected guests in the building – three baby white barn owls.
Site foreman Tommy Sofield said workmen at the site found the owls on Thursday, 8 November, when removing an air conditioning duct from the building’s attic.
The workmen moved the chicks away from the immediate area where work was being carried out and Mr. Sofield called Mark Orr, conservation officer with the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, who removed the baby owls chicks from the site. He returned the next day to place the birds high up a palm tree inside an owl box, where their parents have since found them.
Mr. Orr said that a couple of weeks earlier, in a different building on the site, workers had found signs that there were owls in the building. “We went to look for the adults and found a room with the pellets they cough up and excrement. When we started banging on the walls, an owl flew out of a hole in the ceiling and flew straight out the window,” Mr. Orr said.
A further check of that building revealed no evidence of a nest or baby owls, so the Department of Environment gave the workers the go-ahead to continue the work in that area.
“Two or three weeks later, the foreman, Tommy, called me back to say they had to stop work two buildings over because they’d just pulled down an AC duct in the ceiling and found three baby chicks,” Mr. Orr said.
When Mr. Orr arrived, he decided the area was too dangerous for the owls to remain because as the building is being hollowed out, if the birds moved just a few feet along the floor, they could plunge down about 50 feet.
He placed them in a box and took them to Island Veterinary Services, where a vet gave them a clean bill of health.
Next, Mr. Orr contacted Alison Corbett, who worked with the now defunct Cayman Wildlife Rescue, as she had rescued and cared for owls in the past. She still had an owl box and even had some frozen mice in her freezer, so the chicks could have some food.
Next day, he returned to the Hyatt site, where the staff there gave him access to their cherry-picker lift. He and one of the workers went up in the lift and attached the owl box to one of two tall palm trees outside the building and then went back up again to place the baby owls inside the box. He returned that evening to feed more frozen mice to the birds.
“We’ve checked on them since they’ve been in the box,” Mr. Sofield said. “They’re definitely healthy and noisy.”
He said the baby owls were quite big and would probably be ready to fly in a week or two.
The section of the Hyatt hotel, on the land side of West Bay Road, which was badly damaged in Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and has remained vacant ever since, is undergoing a partial demolition, with workers stripping it down to floors and load-bearing walls.
Instead of the calming hoots one usually expects to hear from owls, there has been plenty of ear-shattering noises from the birds. While the babies were at Mr. Orr’s house, he said their screeching made him think aliens were attacking his house. “I had nightmares,” he said.
The adult owls have also been quite vocal, crying out for their babies as they circled the building at night. “The first night, the birds were flying over the whole place. The adult birds were flying high and screeching – they were desperately looking for their babies,” said Janice Blumenthal of the Department of Environment, who also accompanied Mr. Orr to relocate the baby birds.
“We were so glad the parents came back for them. We were running out of mice,” she said.