Here's Why Feeding Geese And Ducks Is Bad For Them
It's ruining their wings.
When Sam, a goose, was found wandering around a neighborhood in North Carolina, his wings were in terrible shape.
One wing had been broken, probably by a predator. His other wing, where a tuft of feathers was sticking out, just looked awkward - but it was actually a sign of something very serious. And it likely made him vulnerable to an attack in the first place.
Sam had angel wing syndrome, a condition that afflicts waterfowl, and which likely affected his ability to fly and made him vulnerable to an attack. And it's caused by something that a lot of animal lovers might be doing all the time - feeding ducks and geese.
"Any kind of waterfowl that are being artificially fed can have this condition," Jennifer Gordon, executive director of Carolina Waterfowl Rescue (CWR), told The Dodo. Gordon said that it's a common misconception that the syndrome is caused by giving the birds too much white bread. "What really causes angel wing is concentrated feeding."
Gordon explained that when flocks get used to being fed bits of bread or other unnatural foods by people, they don't work as hard to find their own food, so they don't get enough exercise. In the UK, people like feeding birds so much, one study recently found that six million loaves of bread are thrown into waterways each year.
Especially for baby geese and ducks, a high-carb diet lacks necessary nutrients and makes their feathers grow too quickly for their soft bones to support the extra weight.
"When their flight feathers are coming in, they have a blood supply to each feather," Gordon explained. "If the bones are still soft, they cannot hold the weight of this blood supply on the wings and it starts to pull the wings out of alignment."
Some cases of angel wing syndrome can be so severe, they leave birds unable to fly.
But the syndrome can only be treated if caught in the beginning stages. "If people catch it immediately when it starts, it can be treated by supporting the wings and taping them in the proper position," Gordon said. It usually takes a week or two to correct the structure of the bone if it's still soft. "Unfortunately, after the bones harden there is no treatment. It's a rotation of the bone that cannot be fixed."
Even better is preventing the syndrome in the first place, by not feeding leftovers to wild birds. Or, if you just can't totally kick the habit of feeding birds, get appropriate food for them, like corn or oats - and give them only a little bit.
Luckily, birds like Sam who are afflicted with the syndrome at CWR get a nice life on the rescue's property, complete with a pond - and a fence to keep predators out.
"They're free to live how they like," Gordon said, "but they are protected."
To help the birds Carolina Waterfowl Rescue saves, you can make a donation.