Bird Song

On the ground floor of Emory University Hospital Midtown, 100 joyful voices greet patients and visitors arriving at the north entrance. The little voices, music to human ears, belong to a group of exotic birds that reside in the hospital's two aviaries.

A visit to the aviaries is the same sort of ritual you make when visiting a favorite park or a favorite city," says patient Wendy Darling. "Whatever else is going on, you make sure you visit your favorite place.

Darling goes to the hospital once a week for allergy shots. "At times, it's unpleasant, but in the end, I know that the birds will be there. Whether I get to watch them for a minute or half an hour, I always enjoy my time with them," Darling says.

  bird banner  

Birds to look for...

Frosted Peach Canary
Origin: Africa, Canary Islands
Size: 7 in. to 8 in. length
Life Span: 10 to 12 years
The frosted peach is another version of the red factor lipochrome canary.

Pearl Headed Amandine Finch 
Size: 4 in. to 5 in. length
Life Span:7 years
They are also known as "silverbills."Their heads and beak are the same silver color. They are nest sleepers.

Gloster Fancy Canary
Origin: England
Size: 7 in. to 8 in. length
Life Span: 10 to 12 years
The gloster fancy canary is one of the most popular types, developed in the 1920s in Gloustershire, England. The gloster comes in two varieties: the corona and the consort. 

Pintail Whydah
Origin: Africa, South of the Sahara
Size: 6 in. plus 10 in. tail
Life Span: up to 16 years
The pintail whydah is the most aggressive of the wydah species. They have a spectacular mating habit in which the male loses his long tail plumage during the mating season.

Illustrations by Melanie Bracken, Melanie's Murals.

Hear the Birds!

Don't miss our audio slide show, which shows all the aviary's birds, plus features their actual bird calls.


More than two dozen types of birds, from blue capped cordon bleu finches to frosted peach canaries, are housed in well-appointed, climate-controlled habitats. Their homes are complete with scenic murals, seasonal decor, toys, and a variety of fruits and vegetables straight from the hospital's pantry. All the birds are exotics, and although they are indigenous to specific regions, such as the African grasslands, all are captive born and captive bred by a licensed breeder.

Donated by the Emory Crawford Long Hospital Auxiliary, the aviaries and their feathered residents are overseen by Shari Creech, manager of the hospital's building support services. "After our former COO's wife, Barbara Henry, retired from the auxiliary in 2003, I was asked to step in and supervise," says Creech. "I was thrilled, but I realized I didn't know much about birds."

To supplement her knowledge, Creech sought out the advice of local pet store owner and exotic bird expert Teri Chacon. Chacon continues to consult with Creech and Mattie Williams, who is charged with the day-to-day care of the birds. "Every three months, we do an entire inventory. If someone has a sore toe, or is molting and looking a little rough, they get put in a special cage in a special area and Mattie cares for them until they recover," says Chacon. 

Williams says she loves her job. "I make sure these little babies are clean, get the best food, and stay out of trouble," she says. "They're just like children. You turn your back on them, and they're into something. If they fall out of a nest, I have to put them back in. If they hurt their little legs, I have to put Neosporin on them. I have to be their mom."

Williams has noticed that visitors love the birds, too. "People say the birds are calming and relaxing. It really does something for the visitors, their spirit and their minds."

As for Darling, she's particularly fond of the Rosey Bourkes parakeets. "Most of the aviary birds are finches, small and flighty, whereas the parakeets are much larger, even bigger than lovebirds," Darling says. "They have lovely gray and pink coloring and a sedate nature. Often, I'll watch them sitting lined up in a row, observing all the other birds. I think I can relate to them."

Robin Tricoles

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