Angel wing is a condition in which the flight feathers of one or both wings of a duck or goose twist away from the body. It occurs when either the primary feathers overlap in reverse order — over each other, rather than under, from outer to inner feather — or, more commonly, the entire last section of the wing flops to the outside, angling away from the body like an airplane’s wing. The deformity, which goes by various names — angel wing, airplane wing, crooked wing, slipped wing, split wing — mars the appearance of an otherwise beautiful backyard duck or goose.
What Is Angel Wing?
Angel wing occurs because the flight feathers grow faster than the underlying wing structure. The heavy feathers cause the last (wrist) joint of the wing to twist outward. Once the bird matures, the affected wing awkwardly and permanently sticks out instead of gracefully folding against the body. One or both wings may be involved. Oddly, and for reasons unknown, when only one wing is affected, it is likely to be on the left side. The condition is cosmetic only and does not otherwise affect the bird’s health.
Do not confuse this condition with a similar condition called drooped wing or lazy wing. As birds grow, sometimes their little wings have trouble holding up all the newly sprouting feathers, and one or both wings may droop slightly, without twisting outward. However, when a wing droops, watch for the possibility that it may begin to twist.
Waterfowl raised for meat don’t live long enough for this clumsy appearance to be an issue. But in waterfowl kept for show it is a defect, except in curly-feathered Sebastopol geese, for which twisting of the wing feathers is a breed characteristic. In all other mature waterfowl the condition, though not serious, is unsightly.
Geese are more likely to be affected than ducks. Among ducks Muscovies are more likely to be affected that other ducks. Ganders and drakes more commonly develop the condition than hens. Wild waterfowl do not have this problem, except when humans interfere with their natural diet.
What Causes Angel Wing?
The exact causes of angel wing have yet to be determined. Although the prevailing theory relates to a diet that causes too-rapid growth, many theories have been posited, including these:
- Improper incubation
- High protein, high energy diet
- Calcium deficiency
- Vitamin D, vitamin E, or manganese deficiency
- Insufficient exercise
How to Control Angel Wing
One suggested method for preventing angel wing is to avoid feeding waterfowl high protein, high energy rations. Once the birds reach two weeks of age, feed them a ration having no more than 16 percent protein. If you notice that a bird’s wing is starting to twist outward, you can often correct the situation by switching to a diet of alfalfa pellets (available from most farm stores). Free ranging young waterfowl where they can graze on improved pasture is another good way to keep them from developing angel wing.
While a duck or goose is still young, angel wing usually can be corrected by using vet wrap to secure the last two joints of the wing for 4 or 5 days. The wrap will hold the feathers in proper position and help the wing grow in the right direction until the wrist joint becomes strong enough to support feather growth.
To prevent binding as the wing grows, and to allow the bird to exercise its wing muscles, remove the vet wrap each evening and reapply it in the morning. The wing joint will be fully developed and able to support the wing properly by the time the bird reaches 16 weeks of age, after which a duck or goose is no longer in danger of developing angel wing.
Wing deformities are a common problem in all domestic ducks and geese. For a complete discussion, including lots of illustrations, consult Wing Disorders in Waterfowl, Causes, Remedies, and Prevention.
And that’s today’s news from the Cackle Coop.
Gail Damerow is the author of Hatching and Brooding Your Own Chicks: Chickens, Turkeys, Ducks, Geese, Guinea Fowl