I know that you all think that I have always been a very careful conservator of nature. How wrong you are. I remember an incident when I was first married. John and I went on a vacation with my parents where there were ducks. Yup. We fed them. I'm so ashamed. I thought that it was fine.
I was also bad just about 10 years ago on a trip to Costa Rica. I was feeding bread to a macaw tied to a post of some sort. Now, in my wiser older age, I am just learning that feeding bread with wheat gluten to wild birds causes a condition called "angel wings." The research is horrifying. It mostly affects swans and geese. Ducks with the condition have been reported less.
What's in a name? Let me count the ways. A disease to some birds is known as airplane wing, angel wing, carpel deformity, carpometacarpal deformity, crooked wing, drooped wing, dropped wing, flip wing, heeled-over wing, reversed wing, rotating wing, slipped wing, spear wing, sword wing, straw wing, tilt wing and algus carpal deformity. Whew!
Please don’t feed waterfowl bread or other food with gluten. It causes deformed wings.
Photo by Gale VerHague
I'm not the only one who has to be careful of nutrition. Some birds do, too. Of real danger are too many proteins. Other problems would be deficiencies in vitamin D, vitamin E and manganese. These bad nutritional diets have been shown to cause the deformities in these birds.
Now, allow me to describe a bird with this condition for you. The deformity causes the last joint of the wing to twist, so that the bird can't fly. One report that I read said that it is developed only when a bird is young. That causes the wing feathers to point out in a perpendicular or slant to the body, instead of lying flat against it. It may be more prevalent in males than females. The problem might be caused by genetics. One breeding pair could produce several broods of chicks with this deformity.
If deformed wrist - usually the left one - does not appear, it usually develops a symptom of stripped flight feathers. It also has stripped flight feathers. If the bird is really bad off, the feathers might seem blue. When the duck is young, it looks like the carpal joint muscles can't hold up those primary feathers. That's why the wing tip begins to drop. Besides that, the primary flight feathers might be affected. Domestic ducks, raised to gain weight rapidly, may be more likely to have this defect.
An experiment on Canada geese that were fed 20 percent more proteins developed these symptoms more often than those that were not fed the proteins. That study was done in 1984 in Canada. Also,white bread, popcorn and any human food are extremely dangerous if fed to wild birds. What can folks feed wild birds and not endanger their lives? Duck seed. I have no idea where to purchase that. Maybe one of you could provide the answer in Genesee Birds.
Another study, in Spokane, Wash., discovered that carbohydrates in the bread, are the culprits to the deformities. Ah, carbs. I have problems with those, too.
What about domestic breeds of geese? Those that are fed to fatten up faster maybe will be more susceptible to these symptoms.
An older bird can't recover from these symptoms, so, frequently, it will never fly again and have an early death. You might as well not try to help it. A veterinarian could wrap its wing and attach it to its flank. However, I did not find research that showed if that method is a common cure for the problem.
Here are interesting facts. Wild birds have not been observed with this disease. Also, those which breed in the Arctic, have not. That could possibly be because they grow very fast.
What are dangers to the environment due to this practice of feeding the birds? Because folks often feed these birds at local ponds or gulls at the beach, water pollution occurs. Fecal coliform bacteria is high, where birds are fed, in the water. That causes authorities to close beeches and prohibit shell fishing in some areas.
Feeding gulls can make them a nuisance. They then beg for food and steal food and garbage. There are feeds that folks can give the birds safely. One is duck seed. I have no idea where to purchase that. Maybe one of you could provide the answer in Genesee Birds.
What are folks doing do help resolve the problem? Some park authorities have put up signs asking visitors not to feed the birds. However, as we have learned, some feeds are trusted. What does one woman do? She hands out bird seed to visitors of the park several times a week. That's positive action.
Ducks and geese might form large flocks in small-town environments. That is bad. Those areas probably can't support them. These flocks can cause erosion, because they eat so much food. That then affects other species badly.
There are several causes for this problem. First, waterfowl are very sociable when they gather in the fall and winter. Second, the loss of habitat suitable for these birds has caused them to crowd together where they can find food. Third, there are migratory habits that make traveling long distances an even bigger possibility of spreading disease. My source added that these are diseases that cause many North American waterfowl in North America. Migrating waterfowl all over the world also spread disease.
In the future, when I observe folks feeding geese and ducks, I will politely inform them of my research. Would you please help by also informing others?
I'd better write a positive, cheerful article next time.