(Advice) Help! I found a...

To help you must first OBSERVE to see if a RESCUE is truly needed.Each year numerous concerned callers believe they need to rescue young birds that are not really orphans in need of care or help. They are usually still being cared for by their parents and are learning needed skills to survive. The best advice is to become familiar with what is normal. If a young or suspected injured bird is seen keep pets (and children) indoors, observe the situation carefully from a distance, and then call if the bird is truly in need of care. If uninjured, the best chance of survival is to remain in its parents' care.

Birds are an important part of our environment. Not only are they beautiful musical additions to our world, but they also serve to control insect populations. As more of their habitat is destroyed-whether through toxic chemicals used on lawns and trees, pollution, or fragmentation of woodlands, wetland, and farmlands--birds are forced to live, find food and raise young in less space. What was once their proper habitat has been destroyed to make room for development. They must be able to adapt to the changes in their territory or die. This may well mean encounters with young birds in your own backyard. Yes, we have had callers report that wild turkeys were perching on lawn furniture on their patio.

Federal law protects wild birds, their nest, eggs, feathers, and young. It is illegal to kill, capture, or even handle them. Never attempt to raise a wild bird on your own, even if you intend to release it. Despite your best intentions and efforts, most will die or not survive in the wild unless in expert care. The law requires that care be rendered only by qualified, permit-holding rehabilitators.

Help! I found a baby bird. What now?

First, you must OBSERVE to see if the bird needs RESCUE. Much depends on what type of bird and situation you are dealing with. Most birds will fall into one of these two main categories:


Altricial (Songbirds such as robins, jays, finches, grackles or other perching birds such as woodpeckers, doves, hummingbirds,swallows, swifts, etc.):

  • At hatch, nestlings are naked and unfeathered except for a tiny bit of fluffy down. Eyes and ears are closed and they can only hold their head up for a few moments to receive feedings. They tend to roll about helplessly or lay flattened out on their belly. They are totally dependent on parental care.
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    Altricial finch nestlings, naked except for down fluff. Notice the normal stool in fecal sac.
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    Altricial chicks developing feather tracts. Notice that this species has no down.

  • Chick stage, newly developing feathers emerge over the next two weeks. Muscle strength and coordination improve so they are able to sit and hold head upright with loud cries to beg for food.
  • First week, the parents will sit on them constantly to keep them protected and warm. They may be fed every 15- 20 minutes or in the case of insectivores, every 15 seconds!
  • Week two, the parents may trade off feeding rounds and not sit on the chicks for long periods (Many people, after always seeing a parent sitting on the nest, assume that the parents have been killed. Observe carefully. Are the parents flying back and forth just long enough to provide a feeding and then leaving again to find more food?)
  • Fledgling stage-by the end of the second week, many songbirds are ready to fledge or leave the nest. They will be mostly feathered but with shorter tails than their parents, fluffy bodies and some bits of fluffy down still showing. They may not carry the same coloring as their parents at this age. When they leave the nest, like toddlers who must learn to walk, they must learn to develop flight skills from the ground. Do not interfere. Allow the parents to teach them how to find food (forage), take cover by hiding in bushes, and develop their survival skills. The parents will coax their scattering young to bushes or trees. They will tease them with food to teach them to eat the right food on their own. Most parents will provide this support for two weeks or more depending on the species. Many fledglings will hunker down and hide if they are approached by humans. They may send out loud, chirping calls but they should not tip their head up to the sky and "beg for food." (If so, they are probably too young to be down on the ground, See rescue.) You can best help by keeping the area free of pets and children over the next few days and educate your neighbors about fledglings. It's likely that they may move into their yard.

Precocial (ducklings, killdeer, or goslings):

See Duck Transport

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Precocial goslings; the youngest is only couple days old but able to pick up food.
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Precocials still depend upon parents for protection. Notice the heavy down feathering.

  • Hatch as fuzzy, downy chicks and are covered totally in down.
  • "Ready to go" at hatch meaning they can walk and follow parents, peck at food.
  • While more developed at hatch than altricials they take longer to fully mature.
  • They are still totally dependent on parental warmth, protection, and assistance in finding food.


Do everything you can to return uninjured altricial chicks, too young to be out of the nest back to their nest. Parents have a poor sense of smell and will not abandon their young because you have touched them. This is an old myth.

  • If you know the location of the nest and can safely return them, gently pick them up and cup them in your hand. Warm them by exhaling warm air on them. As their bodies warm, they will begin to squirm. Immediately place them back in the nest. (If they open their mouths for food, do not be tempted to feed or give water to them. This will be harmful and the parents need to hear their begging cries to return. You must act quickly.
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    Is the nest still intact? Place uninjured, warmed chicks back inside.
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    Carefully secure the nest back to the original location.

  • A fallen nest may be placed back if it is intact and can be secured to the branch it fell from with instant bond glue, garden ties or wire. But first, ensure the chicks are kept warm. See steps 1-2 under Transport.
  • If it damaged, size it up with a basket or plastic container that will be a close, tight fit. Numerous holes must be poked in the bottom/sides of solid containers to allow for rain drainage or they will drown in a storm. (Small margarine tubs are about right for finches, dessert topping tubs for robins and doves, foam egg carton cup for hummingbirds.) Replace the nesting material in the container (if wet, quickly blow dry it). If the material is too scattered, line the container with natural dried grasses to form a cup shape. (Do not use green grass as it will stay moist and chill the chicks.) Replace the warmed chicks snugly together and wire the basket to the branch. If you cannot safely reach the branch where the nest fell from but can place it very close (within a few feet) to the old spot, do so.
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    Place damaged nest in a same sized container punched with holes for drainage.
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    Repaired nest placed back to original location and observed for parents return.

  • Observe quietly from a place where the adults cannot see you (binoculars are handy). If the chicks have not been down too long and the parent birds not harmed, they should return within an hour or two.

[If you return a well-feathered bird back into its nest and it keeps hopping out (not falling), it is probably a fledgling that is ready to be out of the nest. If you know it actually fell out a second time, do not attempt to return it as it may sustain more internal injuries. Instead call us (see Transport).]

Remember to contact us immediately if:

  • The chick is injured in any way, staying chilled or sick.
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    Dove nestling with head injury; should not be returned to nest. Contact a bird rehabber immediately.
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    Dove chick attacked by a cat.
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    Barn swallow chicks close to death from cat attack which led to chilling, dehydration, and exposure to elements.

  • Some of the chicks are still up in the nest but you can't reach it. (Do not attempt to place the other chicks in a nest nearby. This will only confuse the parents.)
  • The parents do not return in one to two hours.


Altricial birds such as robins, jays, finches, or grackles: Naked or partially feathered chicks will need to be kept at 85-90 degrees. To warm up chicks up quickly, place a dish towel that has been warmed (not hot) in the dryer or microwave (about 25 seconds) and place over them while you proceed to the next steps.

  1. Make a nest from a disposable container and line it well with white tissues or toilet paper (no oils or scent) or shredded paper toweling. Find a warm, dark, quiet location to set up your nest.
  2. Place tub on a heating pad set no higher than LOW or fill a small plastic recyclable bottle (water, shampoo, etc.) and fill it with hot water. Set directly next to the tub.
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    Nest lined with tissues and placed next to a bottle filled with hot water.

  4. Place the warming chicks in the nest and cover with the towel. Monitor carefully. Panting, hanging over the edge of the nest, or open- mouthed breathing indicates overheating. If this occurs, remove the towel or the heat source. If they huddle tightly, they are cold.
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    Nest covered with light towel and temperature monitored carefully.
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    Huddling chicks indicates they are too cold.
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    Overheated chicks will stretch out necks and breath with an open mouth.

  6. By now, you should have called your local rehabber and made arrangements to bring the bird(s)in.
  7. Once you are set to leave for your appointment, pack up the nest inside a paper bag and pad a towel all around the sides to keep it from sliding. Cover the top of the nest with a dish towel. Close the bag with a clothespin or paper clip.
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    To transport, the nest is carefully padded inside brown paper or gift bag.

  9. Secure the bag in the floor of your car during the drive and keep the A/C and radio off.

Remember: Do not attempt to put anything into their open mouths unless specifically instructed to do so by the rehabber. Good intentions can result in intense suffering or torture no matter how harmless it may seem (pneumonia, diarrhea, GI disturbances, or death). The rehabber will carefully assess dietary needs according to the age, species and condition of the bird. They can be very fragile and difficult to care for, some requiring feedings every fifteen minutes from sunrise to sunset.

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I found an injured or sick fledgling or adult bird

Call a Rehabilitator immediately (see our About us page) so that you can bring the bird in for treatment. Be sure to leave a voice mail on the first call (See FAQ's).

Fledglings and adult birds are easily stressed and should be minimally handled. Prepare for transport: To capture, corner it against a wall and toss a lightweight towel over it. Gently scoop it up and set it inside a paper grocery (not plastic) or gift bag that is heavily padded with layers of paper towels. Lift the towel away. Close the bag and clip it shut with several clothespins or paper clips. No need to poke any holes. There will be adequate air. This will provide a dark, secure, safe shelter for transport. Do not place the bird in a bird cage. They are not used to being trapped and the wiring can cause further injury if the bird sudden flails about. They are known to catch wings or legs between bars resulting in further trauma. Shoe boxes or pet carriers are an option but the bags are safer and help prevent escape.

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Injured fledgling or adult songbirds should be packed in paper bag as described above, however larger waterfowl should be carefully placed in a box.
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A well padded box covered in shredded newspaper to absorb feces and provide traction.
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The best size box is only slightly larger than the bird to prevent further injury.

This includes:

  • Any bird that has been attacked, bleeding, punctured, stunned, has fractures or other obvious injuries. They may appear slight but are often life-threatening and need immediate emergency treatment. Do not attempt to immobilize fractures, apply ointments, provide meds/food/or liquids or any other treatment.
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    If injured, call a bird rehabber immediately. Most people mistake life-threatening injuries as minor.

  • Any bird that has been in a cat's mouth or has been pinned down should be brought in, even if to the untrained eye, no injuries are seen. Cats carry a bacterium in their saliva that will result in death if untreated. Often there will be massive internal injuries.
  • Any bird that has been stunned for more than 15 minutes, is bleeding, has broken bones, punctures.
  • Any adult that cannot fly.

As a safety precaution, you should wear gloves when handling birds. After handling birds, be sure to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water. Birds do not carry rabies as their body temperature is too high for the virus to survive.

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Help! I cut down the nest when severely cutting back the shrubs. What can I do?

  • First, poke the cut branches onto the top of the shrub.
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    Place bungee cord around the pruned area.
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    Poke pruned branches back into damaged site to fill in the hole.
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    Repair damaged nest (as described earlier); then adding warmed, uninjured chicks.
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    Wire nest back to shrub with foliage surrounding it for protection.

  • Next, wire the nested branch securely to a stable uncut branch in the shrub. The nest must be out of the elements and have foliage to hide it. The leaves will probably die back but provide enough protection for a one to two week period.
  • Monitor it to be sure it remains sheltered and is attended by the parents.

It's always a good idea to carefully scan bushes and trees before trimming but sometimes they are so well camouflaged they are still missed. This can occur with nests as tiny as the hummingbirds. Another situation would be cutting down a tree and finding woodpecker chicks inside the hollow cavity of the tree. Call immediately for advice on what to do. It's likely they will need to be brought in for care.

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Help! I found birds in my chimney

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Chimney swift chicks.
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Chimney swift fledglings, well-feathered and almost ready to fly.
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Note the various stages of development of these chimney swifts.

You hear a loud chittering noise from inside your chimney. (Some callers panic from the noise and think they have rattlesnakes!) Investigation reveals birds inside. Your special guests are most likely chimney swifts, sometimes confused with bats because of their dark body shape, erratic flight, and unusual clinging position. Amazingly, most of their time is spent on the wing in pursuit of flying insects except to nest or roost at night. These "sooty colored flying cigars" are extremely important in insect control, consuming thousands of pests per bird per day!

Why in the chimney? - In earlier centuries, their nesting habitat is thought to have consisted of caves and tree hollows. With habitat destruction, they were able to adapt to the use of open mortared chimneys, well shafts, and even building attics. Rather than perch like most birds, they cling vertically to the sides with grapple hook-like claws. Sadly, they have been in decline since the 60's with further loss of habitat. (Modern technology utilizes metal liners which they can't cling to, narrow flues, and caps.) You can help by allowing them temporary residency to roost or nest. A well cleaned chimney makes for a safer home for you and your guests. To prevent dangerous creosote buildup caused by wood fires, clean your chimney after wood-burning season (mid-March) before they return and keep the damper closed. If you have your chimney serviced, be sure to find a reputable service since some illegally remove and "trash" the birds (slow, horrible death). Their nest, eggs and young are protected by state and federal law.

What can go wrong? - Half moon shaped nests made up of tiny twigs cemented by a "glue" from the parents saliva are attached to the wall of the chimney. From 1-5 white eggs will hatch out in 19-21 days. From hatch, they take about a month before leaving the nest. Their rapid fire "dit-dit-dit" begging noises during feeding may not be heard until they are about two weeks from leaving the nest. Heavy rains or dirty chimneys can prevent the glue from properly adhering, resulting in a fall. You may find chicks clinging to the nest on the fireplace floor.


  • If they are well-feathered, bright-eyed, alert, and warm-bodied place them as high as possible along the wall of the chimney above the damper. Be sure they are able to cling well with both feet.
  • If they are well-feathered but cold or sluggish, call immediately and be ready to transport.
  • Naked hatchlings or nestlings that are not well feathered are at high risk if the nest is down or broken. (In handling them, they will likely elicit an alarm cry.) Place chicks inside a small container (a wicker basket will work well) and place them on their nest. If the nest is not in view, use a wicker basket lined with paper towels placed on bottom or a container lined with a clean t-shirt rag, NOT terrycloth. Cover nest with cloth to keep them quiet and secure. (See Baby Bird - Transport section above) Call immediately for more help. Do not attempt to feed.


  • If you are able to safely return them to their nest or they are old enough to cling to the chimney use a flashlight to see if they are still safely positioned.
  • Watch for signs of the parents return. You should hear sounds of them flying in and out or the loud chittering of older birds when begging.
  • Close the damper when you are sure of their return.
  • If there is no return after a couple of hours, or further problems develop, call immediately and be ready to transport.

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Help! We were planning to have construction work done or have this tree taken down but we found a nest

Do what you can to delay the construction work or tree removal. Most birds will leave the nest around two weeks after hatch so use that as your guideline to reschedule work. Remember, it is illegal to remove eggs, young, active nest unless carrying proper permits. If your workers claim otherwise, ask them to show you their removal permits.

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Help! I have baby birds in my dryer vent

Most likely you have starlings or house sparrows nesting at this location. Allow them to finish rearing their young without disrupting the nest. As a safety precaution, stop or minimize dryer use. They will be ready to leave the nest in two weeks or less from the point that you first hear them. The parents will fly back and forth to feed them and you will hear their feeding cries at least every twenty minutes. The noise stops as soon as the parents leave in search of more food. When you no longer hear their cries and no longer see the parents flying to the vent, they have left. At this point you should apply an inexpensive dryer vent guard from your hardware store. (Do not use screening as these birds are very intelligent and will know how to get past it. They also know how to open flap traps.) You will need to pull out all nesting debris that has built up in the vent by fashioning a long handled hook out of a clothes hanger or by flushing it out before properly applying the guard. If you've had many nestings over time, there may be a heavy accumulation of debris.

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Help! I have baby birds in my hanging flower basket

They have likely chosen this location because the humidity of the plants will be helpful in the hatching of the eggs. The flowers provide protection from the elements and help hide the nest. If you observe carefully, you'll find opportunities to carefully water the plant. Direct the water away from the nest. Wrens and house finches are high on the list for choosing these plantings. Try to avoid watering about 1 1/2 to 2 weeks after they hatch as they will be close to leaving the nest. You don't want to spook them off their nest too early.

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Help! It's a collision into window

If they are only stunned, they should recover in less than 15 minutes. Beyond that, you should capture them and prepare for transport to bring them in for care. Most likely they have sustained severe injuries such as brain or spinal trauma, broken beaks, broken chest or shoulder bones, and eye trauma that may not be readily observable.

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Hummingbird fledgling with spinal trauma from window collision.
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Adult yellow-billed cuckoo with spinal injury.
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Downy woodpecker fledgling "rowing" due to lower leg paresis from spinal trauma.

Why does this happen? They see the reflection of sky, trees and even houseplants in the window. Especially in a high speed chase by the predator, they are likely to hit with killing force that may literally break their neck instantly. If this has happened repeatedly you may want to try some diversions to deflect the reflections.

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Attacks on Windows of houses, Cars or Hubcaps?

While this may be frustrating to both you and the bird (often robins or mockingbirds) it is rarely fatal. The bird sees its reflection and thinking it is an intruder, tries to defend the territory.


  • Tape a sheet of newspaper or cardboard over problem spot for quick temporary fix.
  • Purchase Bird Tape for Windows to reduce collisions at www.abcbirdtape.org
  • For more information on Bird collisions with windows see www.youtube.com/user/abcbirds.
  • Place grapevine wreaths and branching at exterior windows to slow full flight speed.
  • Use acrylic craft paint, Christmas snow, or Glass Wax to stencil entire problem window (dab on to hubcaps).
  • Silhouette transparencies of hawks are not very effective. Any decorative transparency can be used but must be placed within four inches to cover most of surface.
  • Mylar strips, CD's or craft store feathers put on a string can be hung like a mobile outside the window to create movement.
  • Moving bird feeders within three feet of window to break momentum of strike, or as far away as 30 feet. (They often strike when startled at feeder.)
  • Moving inside plants away from windows that may confuse birds.

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Help! I found a hawk

While Bird Refuge handles most species of wild birds, we do not carry the permit for working with birds of prey/raptors (hawks, owls, eagles, or vultures) and cannot answer your calls. York County residents should call raptor permit holder, Mitzi Eaton for assistance. If the raptor is injured or known to be orphaned it should be placed in a box (preferred) if you can do so safely. Place it in a warm, quiet place and do not feed it. Call her  at 757-4420 and follow her instructions. Many times, dove chicks, or other birds with "strange beaks" are mistaken as hawks. To confirm that you have a bird of prey, please see the raptor identification site at International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council.

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Black vulture. Notice the curve in the beak.
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Fledgling hawk. Notice the down feathers.
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This adult owl is also in the raptor family.

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Help! I found a bird at my feeder with swollen, crusty eyes

While there are many diseases or traumas that may affect the eye, most callers are reporting Finch Eye Disease. Most people are familiar with "pink eye" or conjunctivitis which is a symptom in which the conjunctiva of the eye becomes irritated and inflamed. In birds, this is a mycoplasmal conjunctivitis caused by Mycoplasmal gallisepticum bacterium. It is not transmissible to other mammals but it is to some bird species, especially the house finch. It starts with watery, reddened area around the eye and may later develop to the point of becoming swollen shut and crusted over. While the birds are not truly blind, this state renders them unable to see causing erratic flight. Many will hang on feeder platforms or the ground appearing lethargic, ruffled, sick or blind. Unable to adequately see, this is a means of trying to survive. They die, not usually from the disease itself, but from starvation or falling prey to cats, hawks or other predators.

How you can help:

  • If you are able to capture an infected bird (at later stages, they can often be picked right up), see rescue and transport sections above. We will be able to begin treatment.
  • Clean all feeders on a regular basis. Clean thoroughly then soak in a solution existing of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water for ten minutes. Allow to dry and refill with fresh seed. (Only enough that can be used in two to three days)
  • Clean away all debris around the area by raking. Do not leave out moldy seed as this can be deadly. Clean areas will help to prevent spread of this and other disease.
  • Dispose of any dead bodies. While the disease is not transmissible to you, the disease may spread to other birds.
  • Report your findings to the House Finch Disease Survey at Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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Help! The bird might be a pet

I have a bird in my yard that I think is someone's pet. What should I do? If you are "visited" by a parakeet, cockatiel, love bird or some other pet bird, most likely it has escaped and belongs to someone in your neighborhood. You will want to put word out to your neighbors that you have spotted the bird and give a detailed description. For the York area, you can call the SPCA to report your find. The owner may have already called in to report their loss. Also, call WSBA radio station to report it. If the bird will come to you, it would be helpful to put it in a cage if you have one and provide it seed and water. Some pet birds will also enjoy greens or fruits. You can provide it protection and rest while you try to locate the owner.

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Notice the bright coloring of this pet macaw.
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Bright full feathered birds with curved beaks that act tame; likely escaped pets.
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Budgies (parakeets) and cockatiels commonly escape.

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