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The popularity of duck keeping amongst homesteaders has increased dramatically over recent years. Whilst chickens have traditionally always been the most popular bird to be kept for meat and eggs, the number of people keeping ducks has rocketed.
Occasionally, ducks and geese suffer from a condition known as Angel Wing (which is also referred to as airplane, twisted wing, slipped wing, drooping wing, or crooked wing). The primary cause of Angel Wing is a diet that consists of foods that are high in protein/energy and high carb foods.
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What is Angel Wing in Ducks
Angel wing is the result of the feathers in a duck wing developing faster than the duck’s wing structure. As ducks’ wing feathers are relatively heavy, they require the muscles in the ducks’ wings to be sufficiently strong to hold them in place.
The flight feathers on a duck that is suffering from Angel Wing rotate or twist meaning the feathers point away from the duck’s body rather than laying flat against its body as they should.
If Angel Wing is not cured before the affected duck matures, its wing feathers will stick out permanently and the feathers will not sit naturally against the duck body.
Many years ago I had a Khaki Campbell male that suffered from Angel Wing, and unfortunately, due to the size of the pond I had at the time, I was never able to catch him to remedy the problem. He lived a normal life, he just had one wing that stuck out the whole time!
Strange facts about Angel Wing
- Angel Wing primary occurs in aquatic birds such as ducks and geese
- Male ducks are more likely to suffer than female ducks
- Angel wing almost always occurs in either the left wing, or both wings but rarely just the right wing
What Causes Angel Wing in Ducks
Studies into the causes of Angel Wing have suggested that Angel Wing may be down to genetic defects being passed from the parents. However, for many professional duck breeders, the cause is believed to be down to poor diet, especially excess protein when the ducklings are up to 12 weeks old.
When young ducks are fed a diet that is high in calories, especially high in protein, or when their diet is low in vitamin D, vitamin E, and manganese the development of the ducks ‘wrist’ joints tends to be delayed.
As a result of the delayed wrist development, the wrist twists outwards, leading to the feathers pointing out away from the ducks’ body.
How to Treat Angel Wing in Ducks?
Common wisdom tells us that if we can secure the duck’s wing against its body for a couple of weeks, the muscles will have a chance to develop and catch up with the feathers.
I have had good success using Vetrap (like this one from Amazon.com). Personally, I always use a bright color, so when the duck pulls the Vetrap off, which they will, I can find and bin it before adding fresh to the duck.
Wrapping a duck’s wing/body with Vetrap is surprisingly tricky, so find someone that can help you by holding the duck while you wrap it up.
There are essentially 3 ways to wrap a duck’s wing. You can wrap the duck’s wing individually, then secure the wing to the body with the Vetrap. Alternatively, you can wrap the wing and body in one go, so the wing is secured against the duck’s body. A third method is to wrap the wing and body in one go by using a kind of figure of 8 motion so the Vetrap goes around the wing, then the body, then the wing again!
Some duck breeders advocate removing the bandages each night before the duck goes to bed, then reapplying them the following morning, whereas other breeders suggest leaving the bandages on permanently for a couple of weeks.
In my experience, removing the bandages each night and reapplying the following morning is extra stressful for the duck. I recommend the apply and leave method.
How to Prevent Angel Wing in Ducks
Angel Wing is one of those conditions where prevention is definitely better than cure. Angel Wing is actually a man-made problem, and can easily be prevented by feeding our ducks the right diet.
When ducks first hatch, they need to be fed a chick feed which has 20% to 22% protein. Personally, I have used the Manna Pro Duck Starter Grower Crumble which is rated at 22% protein (check the current price).
I will feed my duck chicks this food for the first 2 weeks, then I will move them on to lower protein food. A waterfowl starter/grower food that has a protein level of around 16% is ideal.
I continue to feed my ducks the waterfowl starter/grower food until they reach 18 weeks or maybe 20 weeks old when I move them onto a regular waterfowl layer pellet.
Feeding baby ducks a diet that has the correct levels of protein dramatically reduces the chances the ducks will suffer from Angel Wing!
As well as feeding young ducks a suitable diet, there are a number of other steps we can take as duck owners to reduce the chances our ducks will suffer from Angel Wing.
Adding greenery to their diet
If you allow your ducks to free-range or at least have access to some outdoor space, letting them eat grass will bring essential vitamins and minerals into their diet.
If they don’t have access to fresh grass, consider putting a bowl of leafy greens in with your ducks every day. In the past, I have given my ducklings lettuce, dandelion leaves, leftover herbs from the kitchen and even just weeds pulled up from around the farm.
Any fresh greenery will be appreciated by your ducklings.
Giving them exercise
I am a big proponent of allowing all the birds on my homestead to free-range wherever possible. I believe getting ducks out of the barn and wandering around is good for their well-being.
There is some evidence that allowing young ducks time to walk around each day, and even swim for short periods, not only helps their development generally but also reduces the chances they will suffer from Angel Wing.
Can Ducks Live With Angel Wing?
Essentially, yes. Angel Wing is a man-made condition. It almost never affects ducks that live entirely in the wild without the interaction of man. It does however occur fairly frequently where a wild population of ducks is fed bread and crackers by well-meaning members of the public.
Angel Wing is entirely cosmetic, in that it doesn’t affect our domesticated flock, because, even those birds living with Angel Wing rarely, if ever, take to the sky. If the duck doesn’t need to fly, it doesn’t matter if its wings don’t work properly.
As mentioned above, I had a Khaki Campbell male that suffered from Angel Wing, but I could never treat him because there was no way I could catch him. He lived a perfectly normal life for many years.