Wild Bird Blog


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Welcome to our Wild Bird Blog!

  • Beak Speak 1 of 2

    Oct 15, 2018

    Beak Speak

    Darwin’s Finches – Differential Evolution 

    Part I of 2

    During a visit to the Galapagos Islands in the early 1800’s, naturalist Charles Darwin found an intriguing group of finches. Each had a different way of feeding, and, correspondingly, a different type of bill. Now thought to represent 14 different species, Darwin’s finches apparently descended from a songbird that had flown off-course during a flight to or from South America.

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    With beaks ranging from strong, conical seed crushers to thin insect-eaters, these birds provided a basis for the evolutionary principles Darwin later formulated in his renowned work, “The Origin of Species.” (Note: the Woodpecker Finch used its bill to hold a twig and probe the bark of trees for insects).

    For Darwin, these distinctive finches were evidence that developing species adapt, through natural selection, to exploit different niches in their environment.

    Next time: Convergent Evolution!

  • Gently Tapping

    Oct 11, 2018

    Gently Tapping

    Sometimes human inventions can create a whole new set of problems for birds. Take windows, for example. Once upon a time a pair of cardinals could settle down, raise a family, send their young off to find a nice spot in neighboring yard, and spend a peaceful winter feeding on berries and seeds. Then came multi-story houses and buildings with windows everywhere, peeking out at shrubs and trees on all sides. Where’s a bird to go to be alone?

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    It was inevitable that our need to see them and their need for privacy would create a conflict – and danger of head-on flight collisions, too. But one occasional result is window tapping. It is clearly a territorial behavior but not an aggressive one. Sometimes, during breeding season, robins, cardinals and other birds will see their reflections on shiny objects and begin breast-beating attacks. Window tapping is much more benign. The birds just tap away, perhaps frustrated and confused, sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs. Perhaps they think they are challenging strangers, but, since their hormones may not have kicked in yet, the interaction is less intense. Encounters with reflected competitors seldom do any damage to the birds or to the windows. But regardless of cause, window tapping can become annoying to humans who listen, day after day, until we begin to twitch a bit in anticipation of the next go-round. Sometimes, placing (on outside surfaces which create reflections) strips of Mylar, fabric or other moving objects will distort the bird’s image enough to solve the problem. Sometimes it takes more direct intervention – opening the window or (gently) tapping on your side of the pane. If the window is near a favorite roosting spot, you might have to cover it (from the outside) until the bird moves on.

    Mr. Poe notwithstanding, as long as there are windows and birds are territorial, there will be tapping evermore.

  • Lawn care is for the birds

    Oct 08, 2018

    Lawn care is for the birds

    People often debate the value of lawns. On one hand, lawns are essentially monocultures that usually require an on-gong external source of nutrients and relatively large amounts of water to thrive. Lawns also require constant maintenance throughout a long growing season.

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     On the other hand, for sheer toe-curling, bare-footed spring and summer delight, nothing rivals a lawn. Lawns are also part of our concept of hearth and home. 

    So few of us will want to eliminate all the grass in our yards, but replacing some of your lawn with shrubbery, natural areas, flowers, water features or brush piles will make your yard a lot more bird-attractive. 

  • Watching your woodpeckers

    Oct 04, 2018

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    Outside your window, a Downy Woodpecker hitches its way down a tree trunk, heading for your suet feeder. A Flicker pounds its head into your lawn, looking for ants. A Red-bellied Woodpecker swoops up to your peanut feeder, catching the mesh at the last possible minute to avoid a collision with the pole.

    Woodpeckers offer an endlessly fascinating study in bird behavior and style. The more you watch, the more engaging they become. Part of it is anatomy. Their broad wings, stiff tail feathers, and unusual toe arrangement are ideally combined for maneuvering quickly through your trees and bushes, screeching to a halt, and grabbing onto the bark with their feet in a perfect, amazing vertical landing. Then, using their tail for counterbalance, they almost rappel down your tree, tail first, until they reach their goal.

    Almost all woodpeckers are year-round residents in their territories, so as you get to know the woodpeckers in your neighborhood and yard, you can enjoy them throughout the year.

  • How to introduce new feeders

    Oct 02, 2018

    How to Introduce a New Feeder

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    Have you ever put up a wonderful new bird feeder, then wondered why your birds did not immediately flock to it? The answer may be simple – they didn’t know it was there!

    Birds are visual and auditory creatures. Except for a few species, most find food by sight. If a feeder is the first one in your yard, it make take the birds weeks to discover and recognize it as a source of food. If you’ve added a new feeder where other feeders are already available, it generally won’t take long for your birds to discover this new opportunity, although there may still be a period of time when the birds hesitate to use the new feeder instead of the old.

    How soon your feeder is used also depends on the availability of natural food sources, the type seed used in your new feeder, and the habitat close to your feeder. Black-oil sunflower seeds usually attract the widest variety of birds. The addition of nutmeats, such as peanut kernels, will make the feeder more attractive to birds such as titmice, woodpeckers, Blue Jays, even wrens. Make certain that the feeder is visible and not hidden by foliage or other obstructions. If you live in a newly developed neighborhood with few trees and shrubs, consider planting some plants near your feeder to provide natural cover. A bird bath or other water source will also make your feeing station more attractive to your birds.

    The first visitors to your new feeder are likely to be chickadees, since these little acrobats are among the most curious and adventuresome of all backyard birds. Once chickadees have found it, titmice and other birds are sure to be close behind.

  • How birds beat the heat Part 3 of 3

    Sep 21, 2018

    PRV_bathing_robinSome birds also stay cool and minimize heat stress by changing their posture or their orientation to the sun. Gulls, which often nest in open areas with little or no shade, will rotate on their nests to face the sun on hot, windless summer days. By changing position, gulls minimize their body surface area exposed to the sun and present their most reflective plumage (white breast, neck and head in many species) to direct sunlight. Young gulls also avoid heat stress by standing in the shade cast by their parents.

    Of course, the ultimate way for birds to beat the heat is for them to drink lots of water and to bathe to cool their bodies. That’s why it’s important to provide a birdbath and/or dripper or mister on hot summer days. So go on, throw a summer soiree, and invite birds over for a cool drink and a swim!

  • How birds beat the heat Part 2 of 3

    Sep 14, 2018

    How birds beat the heat

    Part II of III

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    Finch4Birds keep their cool in other ways too. They squish their feathers down flat to get rid of insulating air. Or, they erect their plumage to take advantage of the cooling power of a passing breeze. Soaring birds may hop thermals that carry them to cooler altitudes. Songbirds seek out shady spots and become as inactive as possible. Shorebirds stand in water for long periods during hot summer days. Their unfeathered, naked legs are uninsulated – perfect for shedding heat and conducting coolness.

    Hummingbirds also show a lot of leg when it’s hot. Hummingbirds have the highest metabolic rate of any animal: thus, they generate a lot of heat. Add the heat of a summer day plus heat generated by these feathered dynamos, and you could have a recipe for disaster. In order to shed heat and maintain a constant body temperature (about 104 degrees F), hummingbirds usually slow down, limit their quest for nectar sources, perch quietly, and fully expose their feet and toes to the air. Heat radiates from their exposed skin, and passing breezes cool the birds down.

    Next time: Even more techniques!

  • How birds beat the heat Part 1 of 3

    Sep 11, 2018

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    Part 1 of 3

    An old etiquette saying maintains that “horses sweat, men perspire and women glow.” There’s no mention of what Turkey Vultures do. Probably with good reason – they urinate and defecate on their feet to stay cool!

    When summer temperatures soar, and the air resembles warm, sticky molasses, be thankful for that rivulet of perspiration coursing down your back – as the water evaporates, it cools you. Besides sweating, we beat the heat of brutal summers by enjoying air conditioning or fans, swimming holes and tall, frosty beverages. We also slow down and show a lot more skins than we normally do. To stay cool, birds do variants of all of these things, too…. with one exception.

    Birds can’t sweat – they don’t have any sweat glands. To avoid over-heating and sudden death, many birds pant to cool off. Heat wand water vapor are perspired into air sacs, carried to the lungs, and exhaled through the mouth. Some non-passerine birds expel excess heat with a “gular flutter” – a rapid vibration of the upper throat and floor of the month.

    Next time in Part II – more cooling techniques!                     

  • How do I attract Downy Woodpeckers?

    Sep 06, 2018

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    Downies love a variety of tree nuts and suet and can be attracted to your yard all year long.

    DWP_021Introduce a peanut feeder or a suet feeder in a rough-barked tree and watch the show begin.

    They are quite entertaining and often become so accustomed to human presence that they will not fly off when you approach the feeder but just scurry around to the opposite side.

    Fun!

  • How do birds find their food?

    Aug 30, 2018

    How do birds find their food?

    Among most birds, the sense of smell is poorly developed, so they find their food by sight. No other living animals can match the visual acuity of birds. 

    TM_029The eye of a bird is extremely large by mammalian standards. Though they look relatively small, hidden behind their lids and protective rings of overlapping bone, birds’ eyes are enormous. This is because the image must be big and have sharp details so that they can locate their food while flying. Imagine the extraordinary vision needed by a hawk cruising over a meadow in search of a mouse, a loon in pursuit of its underwater prey, a hummingbird gleaning a minuscule insect near a trumpet vine, and a titmouse searching for a source of black oil sunflower seeds – amazing!

  • How to choose a seed blend

    Aug 28, 2018

     

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    How to Choose a Seed Blend (for higher personal entertainment!)

    Wild Center specialty stores carry many varieties of birdseed: black-oil sunflower, peanuts, Nyjer, millet and others. They also carry seed blends with varying characteristics which enhance their entertainment value for you.

    Hopper_Suet_1We believe that our customers mostly feeds birds because you enjoy seeing them, and that you prefer feeding small and colorful birds (e.g. chickadees, cardinals, goldfinches, titmice and woodpeckers) over grackles and squirrels.  

    One seed type which gets lots of attention these days is safflower, a small, whitish, plump seed with very little shell. If you are frustrated with European Starlings, Common Grackles or squirrels at your feeders, safflower (check out that picture with a male cardinal dining on safflower) has the potential to make you happier. They don’t like safflower much and tend to stay away from it, while titmice, chickadees and cardinals usually learn to like it.

    A high-quality birdseed blend should contain black-oil sunflower or hulled sunflower (as one the first ingredients listed). Other quality ingredients are black-stripe sunflower, white proso millet or some forms of nutmeat, such as peanut (pieces). Always read the ingredients list before buying a seed blend and avoid those that don’t list some form of oil sunflower as the primary ingredient. You should also avoid blends from other outlets which contain filler products such as milo, wheat, oats, rice, flax, canary seed or “mixed grain products.” These seeds only add weight and actually diminish the blend’s attractiveness. They may decrease the cost per pound of seed, but they will increase your cost per bird visit so patronize your local Wild bird Center for best seeds, blends and advice.

  • The Last Yellow Rose of Summer

    Aug 24, 2018

    PhotoGalleryAcross their wide North American range, American goldfinches are just about the last birds of summer to build nests, lay eggs and raise young. By waiting to begin the reproductive cycle, they are assured a plentiful supply of seeds on mature plants, such as the thistle. Goldfinches wait for the thistle to produce down for nest building as well as seeds to feed to their nestlings.

    An added benefit to the late breeding is that goldfinches are able to avoid female brown-headed cowbirds looking for nests in which to deposit eggs. Substitute parenting by the cowbird is called "brood parasitism," and it is not beneficial to the offspring of other surrogate parents.

    The female goldfinch selects the nest site and weaves a cup-shaped nest from grass and plant fibers, lining it with silky thistledown seen on page 3. The nest is so tightly constructed that some have been found filled with water after a heavy rain.

    The male's role during the incubation period is to keep his mate well fed. Once the eggs hatch, however, both parents feed their offspring. Goldfinches are complete herbivores, so focused on seed for food that they even feed their nestlings regurgitated seeds.

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    The best reasons to keep feeding stations well stocked throughout the summer is the sight of a Nyjer-filled tube feeder with a male American goldfinch on every perch. Their dazzling breeding season plumage makes them look like lemon-yellow canaries. But when the male goes through its fall molt, the black cap disappears and the bright yellow dims to a drab, olive-yellow color. They are so different looking that many people ask, "Where did my goldfinches go?" Females remain a soft, olive-yellow color all year.

    In much the same way as your backyard birds display different eating preferences, you will notice their different flying styles as well. The little yellow and black "roller coaster" approaching your feeding station is the American goldfinch, using its characteristic finch-style alternate gliding and flapping technique.

  • Fun Hummingbird Facts!

    Aug 22, 2018

    Hummingbird Facts to Amaze Mere Humans

    Hummingbirds

    1. Hummingbirds can fly forwards, backwards, shift sideways and stop in midair.
    2. Hummingbirds are the world’s smallest birds.
    3. Hummingbirds can reach speeds of 60 mph.
    4. On average, a hummingbird consumes half its weight in nectar each day.
    5. Hummingbirds may not have a sense of smell. They seem to locate their food (including small insects) entirely by sight.
    6. A hummingbird has between 40 and 60 taste buds; a human has approximately 10,000 taste buds.
    7. Hummingbirds lap nectar with their tongues at the rate of about 13 licks per second.
    8. Hummingbirds feed 5 to 8 times an hour for about 30 to 60 seconds per time.
    9. Hummingbirds cool themselves by panting, much as dogs do, and by using an internal evaporative-cooling system.
    10. Hummingbirds beat their wings about 78 times per second during regular flight and up to 2000 times during a dive.
    11. The fastest wing beat during normal flight – 90 beats per second – belongs to the Sun Gem, a South American species.
    12. A hummingbird egg is about the size of a pea; a nest s about the width of a Quarter coin.
    13. A hummingbird’s heart beats about 1260 times per minute.
    14. Hummingbirds decrease their heart rate and their breathing dramatically overnight. In the morning, it can take more than an hour for a hummingbird to wake up and fly.
    15. The adult male “Bee Hummingbird” of Cuba is only 2.24 inches long, including bill and tail. It weighs 0.056 ounces.
    16. Hummingbirds may use the same nesting site repeatedly.
    17. Hummingbirds bathe by flying through sprinklers or misters, rain showers or through the spray of waterfalls.

  • Relax...watch your birds!

    Aug 02, 2018

    Relax……watch your birds!

    Do you recall the excitement experienced as a child upon discovery of a bird’s nest in your backyard? Then that same thrill turned to elation if the nest contained baby birds? If you were like me, in the days that followed, you became very aware and more keenly interested in the world of nature just out your own back door. You learned that you need not go far or do more than take the time to watch.

    As adults, we are so busy that we often fail to allow ourselves time to relax. Studies have proven over and over that interacting with animals such as caring for a pet and participating in nature-oriented activities promotes mental health and stimulates positive attitudes, resulting in a happier general sense of well-being.

    BLUEJAY_ON_RAILING2Why not experience again your childhood enjoyment by slowing down to watch your birds at a feeder, or the nest-building activities or the dinner time show by baby birders. The idea of feeding birds is not so much to provide necessary food, as it is to enjoy the activities of the birds in our yard from the comfort of our home.

    If time for relaxation is an important goal for you, consider feeding your birds winter, spring, summer and fall. All year long! With a small investment you will enjoy great returns…a better therapy than any amount of money could buy.

    So go ahead…. let yourself relax…. just lean back and watch your birds…

     

  • What to put in your feeder

    May 23, 2018

    What to put in your feeder!

    Black-oil sunflower attracts the widest variety of birds and can be used in almost all feeder types. People who want to attract goldfinches often present Nyjer (thistle) in special Nyjer feeders.

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    To attract juncos, native sparrows or other ground-feeding birds, you can present (white proso) millet directly on the ground or on a large platform feeder. Millet is favored primarily by ground-feeding birds, including House Sparrows, so we do not recommend using it in the tube-style feeders designed for perching birds. 

    Black-oil sunflower seeds are generally your best choice for tube-style feeders. Medium-sized hulled sunflower (sunflower seeds with the shells removed) is another good choice, especially if you want to eliminate shell debris from your deck or patio.  

  • How can I interest my children in birds?

    May 23, 2018

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    Q: What can I do?

    A: Simply install feeders that can be seen easily from inside your home. Keep an identification chart close by the window to help teach children the birds’ names. Start a list of the different avian species seen in (or from) your yard; you’ll be surprised how quickly the list grows. There are also window-mounted feeders to bring your birds up close – a child’s delight!

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    Q: What kind of outdoor activities can I do with my children to encourage an interest in birds?

    A; Bird walks can be a great activity for you and your child. Children also enjoy building bird houses and bird feeder and installing them too. 

    All birds are exciting to children and exciting for parents who want to pass on this legacy hobby to future generations.

     

  • How high do they fly?

    May 23, 2018

    When we look at the sky, it’s like a roof – flat, solid – just sort of there. Unless the light is exceptional, even clouds and constellations looked painted on it.

    For the birds though, the sky isn’t flat, it’s multidimensional. Just as different bird species hunt at different levels within the same tree, different birds tend to fly at different levels in the sky. And for them, the clouds aren’t just pretty puffs in the sky. They are a dynamic part of their daily landscape.

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    Flying high exposes birds to dangers, such as higher winds or hungry hawks. So when not migrating, most birds follow the facetious advice often given to new pilots, they “fly low and slow”, usually under 500 feet. But during migration, birds often climb to remarkable heights, probably to conserve energy. They burn fewer calories in the cooler air and become dehydrated less quickly.

    Also, winds that can hinder day-to-day activities become a welcome aid to quick travel. Like pilots, birds seem to know that their optimum cruise altitude increases as their “fuel” is consumed and their weight declines. Long-distance migrants seem to start out at about 5,000 feet then progressively climb to about 20,000 feet. In the Caribbean basin, where considerable radar work has been done, migrating birds are most often observed at about 10,000 feet.

    Clouds and Birds:

    Altocumulus clouds: Migrating swans and geese are known to sometimes fly more than 25,000 feet above sea level , over four miles high!

    Stratocumulus clouds: Broad-winged Hawks routinely soar at around 3,200 feet, aided by thermals created by differing ground temperatures.

    Cumulus clouds: Vultures sometime rise to over 10,000 feet, scanning wide areas for food and watching the behavior of distant birds for clues to the location of a feast.

    Cirrostratus clouds: Jet planes typically cruise at about 35, 000 feet, in what are commonly known as “ice clouds”.

    Nimbostratus clouds: In their daily activities in and around our backyards, many of our favorite songbirds stay in the 30-to 50-foot range above the ground. Robins, bluebirds, jays, woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches are all relatively low flyers.

     

  • Neighborhood Nuthatch

    Mar 15, 2017

    Lively as windup toys, nuthatches pirouette on branches and descend headfirst down tree trunks, combing the bark for insects. Divided into four species, these short-tailed song birds are found almost anywhere in North America where there are trees. Easily drawn to see and suet at feeders, especially in colder weather, nuthatches’ nasal bleats are a familiar part of our backyard soundtrack. But common does not mean mundane! Nuthatches possess some fascinating eccentricities.

    Nuthatch_WBReadily identified by its white underside, gray back and shiny black cap, the White-breasted Nuthatch ranges across most of the United States and southern Canada. The largest of its tribe, the White-breasted Nuthatch can seem downright gluttonous, as it flies onto a feeder, grabs a seed, and then returns again and again for more. In fact, the White-breasted is a miser that stashes seeds in bark crevices. With a little patient observation, it is easy to locate the bird’s storehouses.

    Sporting a distinct orange belly and white eye-stripe, the smaller Red-breasted Nuthatch_RBNuthatch replaces the white-breasted in northern forests and western mountains. The Red-breasted nests in tree cavities (as do all nuthatches) or man-made nest boxes. Like its White-breasted cousin, the Red-breasted improves its homestead by narrowing the entrance hole with mud and smearing the area with sticky stuff, such as sap, which probably serves as a predator guard. The bird itself avoids this mess by shooting straight as an arrow into the nest hole.

    Native to the Far West, the plain-gray Pygmy Nuthatch is easy to overlook. But its peculiar domestic arrangements make it an unusual bird. When raising and feeding their young, Pygmy Nuthatch parents rely on “helpers”, who may be their own young from an earlier brood or even “surplus” males. This unusual avian behavior is comparable to human bachelors volunteering to change diapers.

    The tiny Brown-headed Nuthatch of the southeastern United States also employs nesting “helpers”. But it one-ups the Pygmy Nuthatch in an astonishing way – the Brown-headed Nuthatch is one of the very few North American birds with a talent for tools. Gripping a chunk of bark in its bill, the bird pries up pine bark in pursuit of a meal.

    The nuthatch is an intriguing neighbor with, perhaps, more to reveal so feel free to spy on the delightful birds – they won’t mind at all.

     

  • Baffling Squirrels

    Mar 15, 2017

    If there are squirrels in your neighborhood and you don’t want to feed them, try finding a spot you can squirrel-proof with baffles. Baffles are metal or plastic devices placed above hanging feeders and below pole-mounted feeders. They are shaped so that squirrels cannot climb around them.

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    Feeder placement is critical to the success of any baffling system. Squirrels can jump six to eight feet sideways and four to five feet high, so consult this handy diagram below if you want to baffle them. If squirrels can reach the feeder by jumping around the baffles, the baffles become ineffective and you may need a feeder to be squirrel-resistant.

  • How to Introduce a New Feeder

    Mar 02, 2017

    PhotoGalleryHave you ever put up a wonderful new bird feeder, then wondered why your birds did not immediately flock to it? The answer may be simple – they didn’t know it was there!

    Birds are visual and auditory creatures. Except for a few species, most find food by sight. If a feeder is the first one in your yard, it make take the birds weeks to discover and recognize it as a source of food. If you’ve added a new feeder where other feeders are already available, it generally won’t take long for your birds to discover this new opportunity, although there may still be a period of time when the birds hesitate to use the new feeder instead of the old.

    How soon your feeder is used also depends on the availability of natural food sources, the type seed used in your new feeder, and the habitat close to your feeder. Black-oil sunflower seeds usually attract the widest variety of birds. The addition of nutmeats, such as peanut kernels, will make the feeder more attractive to birds such as titmice, woodpeckers, Blue Jays, even wrens. Make certain that the feeder is visible and not hidden by foliage or other obstructions. If you live in a newly developed neighborhood with few trees and shrubs, consider planting some plants near your feeder to provide natural cover. A bird bath or other water source will also make your feeing station more attractive to your birds.

    The first visitors to your new feeder are likely to be chickadees, since these little acrobats are among the most curious and adventuresome of all backyard birds. Once chickadees have found it, titmice and other birds are sure to be close behind.

  • Most Baby Birds are Best Left Alone

    Mar 02, 2017

    NestA baby bird on the ground always presents a dilemma. It’s not true that handling a bird will cause it to be rejected by its parents or other birds. On the other hand, sometimes the best course of action is to take no action at all.

    Any bird that is feathered and mobile – even if it is flightless – is best left alone. Young birds that have left the nest on purpose or by accident are often moved to a safer place by their parents. By interfering, we may actually decrease the chance of a successful move. Yet we can reduce potential hazards (such as pets).

    If you find a featherless bird that has obviously fallen out of the next, the best thing you can do is to simply put it back. Even whole nests that have fallen from a tree should be put back as closely as possible to its original location, and then left alone. The parents will usually return, and their care of the young is most often the young’s best chance for survival.

    Care of young birds should be undertaken only by licensed wildlife rehabilitators. These wonderful volunteers can also help you decide what to do if you find an injured bird.