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Pie funnels were used in baking pies and prevent the pie from boiling over in the oven by allowing the steam created when the fruit filling or other contents are cooking to escape from inside the pie. They also supported the pastry crust in the center of the pie, so that it did not sag in the middle, and are hence also known as "crustholders". Older ovens had more problems with uniform heating, and the pie bird prevented boilover in pie cooking.
Traditionally they were most often made in the shape of a bird or an inverted funnel with arches on the bottom for the steam to enter, but they have always been produced in a multitude of designs. This trend has been particularly noticeable in recent times, due to their increasing popularity as gifts and collectors' items rather than simply utilitarian kitchen tools.