Antique Aviary in a Funeral Home in Ohio
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Birds offer respite
by Laura Keeter, Wilson Daily Times Staff Writer

People who find comfort in nature are enjoying the birds on display inside Joyner's Funeral Home.

Judy Gray walked down the main hall of Joyner's Tuesday. Her father, Mac McIntyre, had died of cancer and his visitation was that evening. Gray stopped at the bird aviary, located between the main hall and the foyer, and watched the small, lively birds.

Their home isn't a "cage" but a piece of Queen Anne wood furniture with double glass panels that stands 6 feet tall.

"It's amazing. It's gorgeous. I want one at home just like it," Gray said.

She stopped to see the black-faced Gouldian finch named Ethel sit on a branch and broaden her chest. The two society finches peered out from a nest where they sat on two eggs, and the two yellow canaries fluttered about.

Gray thought the birds added a nice touch to a funeral home. "It takes the edge off. It's very peaceful."

Dell Joyner, president of Joyner's, hasn't regretted the aviary purchase. In fact, it was something he knew he had to buy when he saw it at the convention for the N.C. Funeral Directors Association in Raleigh in April. One of the funeral directors at Joyner's, Mark Willey, promised to maintain it.

Made by a company in Georgia, the aviaries were first marketed to rest homes but found a niche in funeral homes, Joyner said. The aviary particularly fits well in the Joyner's Funeral Home, which already has a "relaxation room" for families that's fitted with a long 125-gallon aquarium, television, sofa, coffee table and a deer head on the wall. The idea is to offer tranquil moments during a stressful time.

"Here, you're around a lot of sadness," Joyner said. "We like to have comforting things in place."

The six birds include Ricky and Lucy, the yellow canaries; Fred and Ethel, the gouldian finches; and Jim and Caroline, the society finches (named for two of the employees, Jim Bass, a director, and Caroline Belty, a secretary).

The gouldian finches are the most colorful. The male (Fred) has an orange face, bright purple chest and yellow stomach. The society finches are mostly brown with some white and are considered the peace keepers. In fact, if the gouldian finches were to lay eggs, the society finches would raise them.

Employees and families fond of the feathered friends are eager for two cream-colored, jelly bean-sized eggs to hatch. The two society finches stay in the nest full-time with the eggs.

"Everybody's enjoyed watching them," said Joe Joyner, company chairman. "We've been told when we have the babies we'll have to run a birth announcement in the paper."

Dell has found the aviary is ideal for the funeral home. The double glass allows for easy cleaning (without letting the birds escape) and muffles the sound. A heater keeps the temperature about 100 degrees for the tropical birds. A fan circulates air through the cage, and a charcoal filter prevents odors. A timer turns out the lights from 10:30 p.m. until 7:30 a.m. All these devices are hidden in the top of the furniture. The top wood panel opens to reveal the temperature gauges.

Many people marvel at the clever piece of furniture, and Dell shows them how the side pieces of wood can be removed, which allows him to slide open the glass panels for access inside the aviary.

To clean the bottom of the cage, pull down the faux drawer on the side of the furniture, and the tray pulls out.

Children might have enjoyed the birds the most. It gives them something to occupy their minds, Joe Joyner said. He enjoys watching the children with the aviary. He saw a 2- or 3-year-old take each family member over several times over to show the birds.

"It makes a lasting impression on kids. To them it doesn't make the funeral home seem a dreaded, morbid place," he said.

Carole Ruffin enjoyed the aviary when she went to a service at the funeral home.

"I thin it's nice of them to have that for the families and children who have lost a loved one," she said.

The aviary is fairly low maintenance. Employees put in fresh bird seed and water daily, clean fingerprints from the glass, do a weekly cleaning of the bottom tray and clean any droppings off branches. Besides the bird seed, the birds enjoy candylike sprigs of millet spray, which are hung from the top.

Periodically, the silk flowers on the branches have to be replaced because the birds pull them apart for nesting materials.

The birds liked being talked to, said Mary Kathryn Quinn, and her brother Dell demonstrated by leaning forward and talk to Ethel.

"Getting fat as ticks!" Dell said in his teasing pet voice, and Ethel responded to him by dancing around on the branch.

The birds are also good for the employees who can work a lot of hours at the funeral home, Joyner said.

It's nice to have something around that can bring some smiles.