A bird hotel in Borneo

A multi-story hotel with no windows and a fetid pool on the ground floor is a non-starter for humans. But for certain birds in Borneo, we're talking five-star accommodation. The New York Times reports that capitalism is a surprising friend to the swiftlets of Borneo. The birds like to nest in dank, dark sea caves — and those nests are the key ingredient in a popular Chinese dish, bird's nest soup.

Enterprising locals, like Mr. Zulkibli, build huge bird houses for the elusive little fliers, harvesting the nests after the hatchlings have flown the coop. Three pounds of the nests, which are held together with tasty swiftlet saliva, can bring in $1500. That's big money for local farmers, so the competition to lure the birds is fierce.

The key to attracting the birds to a man-made home, Mr. Zulkibli said, is treating them like "rich humans" and guaranteeing their comfort and safety. 

"Comfort, by regulating the temperature," he said. "Safety, by keeping pests and predators away. The swiftlet house must be really clean. They don't even like spiders."

The best bird houses are ventilated with small tubes, to keep the light out, with a small entrance hatch on the roof. Swiftlets, like bats, navigate by echolocation, so they don't have to worry about stubbing a toe in the dark like human hotel guests.

Climate change has driven the birds away from some other regional bird houses, but Mr. Zulkibli, like his parents before him, is an especially gracious host.

"We never ate duck or anything that could fly," he said. "That's one reason I want to protect the birds. Many birds build their nests around my house here, maybe because they feel safe with me."

Previously: People can learn to echolocate like bats in just ten weeks