Employee Spotlight: Kathy Kuchwara looks after Homeland’s feathered friends


Kathy Kuchwara looks after Homeland’s feathered friends!

Resident Mary Jane Baum noticed that the birds in Homeland’s second-floor aviary seemed to appreciate their new toys.

Homeland’s “Bird Lady,” RN Kathy Kuchwara, explains why birds love swings and millet to residents (from left) Mary Jane Baum and Peg Harnish.

“They love the swing,” agreed nurse Kathy Kuchwara. “They’re probably like people and the way we love to rock. For birds, maybe it’s the same type of thing.”

Kuchwara has been a registered nurse at Homeland since 2005, full-time until retiring and part-time in 2015. And while she performs such nursing duties as immunization audits and teaching CPR to staff, she is also known throughout Homeland as “The Bird Lady.”

That’s because the avid birdwatcher brings her knowledge about birding and bird care to Homeland, which has aviaries in the first-floor gathering room, second-floor solarium, and Ellenberger dementia care unit.

Kuchwara, of Hampden Township, started working in healthcare at age 16. Homeland excels because “the quality of life is very good,” she says. “I’m very happy to be here. The staffing ratios are better, and activities are very, very attuned to residents’ needs. They work on getting resident input on activities offered. It’s a lot of fun. It makes it very special.”

Kuchwara’s lifelong interest in birds took flight around 2006. Since joining the Appalachian Audubon Society, she has developed a cadre of friends with whom she takes birding trips. She might go to the shore, balmy Monterey, Canada in February, or somewhere in Central Pennsylvania, where the birding is excellent. She once took a day for birding while in Guatemala, and just when she despaired of seeing the rare pink-headed warbler, one popped out of the greenery to show off its bright colors.

Homeland’s investment in three aviaries provides a special treat for residents, who experience “that ability to get out of themselves and look at the birds and appreciate them,” said Kuchwara. For residents with dementia, birds can trigger fond memories.

“They might say, ‘I remember when I was a little girl, and we had a parakeet,’ or ‘I remember when I used to feed the birds, when we would throw seed out in the yard and all the birds would come,’” Kuchwara said.

Two of Homeland’s aviaries had been established when Kuchwara arrived, but she quickly took an indispensable role in maintaining them and helping the other staff who take care of daily food and water. She helps direct birds to veterinary care when needed. She answers questions about temperatures and the right kinds of toys. Sometimes, she’ll separate injured or ill birds from the others for their safety.

“Believe me; there were many days when I was here full-time that I shared my office with a little bird in a cage, just to monitor it,” she said. “When it got better, it would go back in the aviary.”

One day, Kuchwara was explaining to residents Mary Jane Baum and Peg Harnish that the service contracted to clean the aviaries had just installed new toys and hung millet.

“Millet to birds is like chocolate candy to us,” she explained.

Kuchwara is “a darling lady,” said Harnish. “She’s been a mainstay of the place, and I think she’s great.”

Baum said the birds are fascinating to watch, and told Kuchwara that she, too, had been a birder. Immediately, Kuchwara asked where Baum had gone birdwatching.

“The shore,” Baum said. “West Virginia. In Virginia, to the Peaks of Otter.”

It was just the kind of interaction the aviaries are meant to encourage.

“Our residents relate to the birds,” said Kuchwara. “It’s nice for them to be in that environment where they have the opportunity to see the birds and all that activity.”