The things I’ve done to get birds to eat.

I’ve donned a hand puppet resembling a crow to offer chunks of raw meat to a real fledgling American Crow.

Using tweezers, I’ve fed wriggling mealworms to a nestling Carolina Wren.

I’ve prepared mouthwatering platters of diced strawberries, blueberries, and grapes for adult American Robins.

Countless times, I’ve answered the call of a hungry young bird with a feeding syringe filled with liquid bird food.

As a volunteer for the Bird Center of Washtenaw County, I’ve stared into the open mouths of hundreds of birds, from tiny hatchlings whose eyes have yet to open, to fledglings beginning to eat on their own. I won’t call myself a momma bird, but my experiences, endlessly surprising and gratifying, have included opportunities to see and hear dozens of wild species throughout their development.

While I enjoy feeding birds, I wish there weren’t a need for this task. The Bird Center exists to care for injured or orphaned wild songbirds, which are admitted for a variety of reasons. Nests are destroyed. Cats attack. Birds crash into windows clear as air. The Bird Center strives to rehabilitate and release each bird it receives, tailoring its methods and diets to suit the particular needs of each species. In order to keep the birds “wild,” the center follows practices that limit the possibilities for a young bird to imprint on humans, or develop an attachment to people. That’s why we use the puppet when interacting with young crows, which are highly social and impressionable.

The Bird Center was founded as a nonprofit organization in 2004 by Carol Akerlof, who serves as its executive director and licensed rehabilitator. Akerlof and other volunteers cared for birds in their homes before the center moved to its current location, a city-owned polling station near the U-M athletic campus.

The center admits approximately 1,000 birds between May and early fall, so it needs (and values) all the help it can get. In addition to feeding birds, we clean birds’ baskets and tidy and maintain the building. No experience is necessary, since staff and other trained volunteers provide hands-on instruction. Other volunteer opportunities include shopping for food and supplies, as well as hosting a flight cage on your property. Flight cages are large outdoor enclosures designed to prepare a young bird for release by providing it with a protected space to acclimate to the outside.

If you’re at least sixteen years old and want to volunteer, email Diane Hein-­Beutel at And if you find an injured or orphaned bird, call the Bird Center’s helpline between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. at (734) 761–9640.