Angel Wing is a wing deformity that can occur with ducks while they are still growing. A duck with Angel Wing has the flight feathers on one or both wings twist away from the body so they stick out instead of laying flat around their midsection.
The main feathers in the wing grow over each other instead of under each other. This causes the end section of the wings to stick straight out like an angel or an airplane (airplane wing is the other common name for this condition).
Angel Wing rarely occurs in wild ducks, but when it does it can be deadly. A duck with misaligned flight feathers will not be able to fly and will be very vulnerable to predators. Domestic breed pet ducks can’t fly anyway so Angel Wing is mostly a cosmetic condition. In severe cases, it may cause loss of some movement in the wing.
What Causes Angel Wing?
The strange feather pattern is caused when the primary feathers grow faster than the wing structure. While the exact cause is not known, many cases can be traced to diet.
Excess protein and calcium can cause unusually fast growth. For this reason, you want to avoid feeding your ducklings grower feed formulated for meat birds. Meat birds need the excess protein to grow fast, ducks being raised for pets or eggs do not.
Another factor thought to play a role in Angel Wing is genetics. There is some evidence that this can be a hereditary condition. Any ducks that develop Angel Wing should not be used in breeding situations.
Not getting enough exercise or being kept in too small a brooder are also thought to be a factor.
Ducks between the ages of 8-12 weeks are most at risk of developing this. It can occur in both wings, or just the left wing, but for some reason rarely develops in just the right wing. Once the duck is fully grown, it won’t suddenly develop Angel Wing but if they get it while growing and it is not corrected, the deformity will persist for their entire life.
In the very early stages, you will see the tips of the primary feathers looking ruffled, then you will notice the feather shafts pointing in the wrong direction.
How to Prevent Angel Wing
Unfortunately sometimes even when you do everything right, a duckling can develop Angel Wing, but there are a few things you can do to prevent the majority of cases.
Well balanced diet
Diet seems to be the most important factor in preventing Angel Wing. For the first two weeks of life, ducklings grow very fast and a high protein feed (20-22%) might be appropriate. After two weeks, they should be switched to a feed with lower protein (16-18%). click here to read more about feeding ducks
It is thought that wild ducks rarely present with Angel Wing because they eat a varied diet from foraging. A foraged diet provides them with the nutrients & vitamins they need for healthy growth.
Offering your ducklings (over two weeks old) fresh greens & veggies is a great way to naturally provide a balanced diet. Some to try include peas, shredded romaine lettuce, fresh herbs, and soft fruits like bananas, applesauce, and peaches (fruit should be limited to less than 10% of their diet). Remember that as soon as you start offering food beyond their feed you need to offer grit to help them digest the food.
Space & time to exercise
Ducklings grow fast. In a matter of weeks, they double and then triple in size. You need to make sure the brooder box you are raising them in is large enough to accommodate those growing bodies.
For the first three weeks, you should plan at least 1 square feet per bird. From 4-8 weeks they should be given at least 3 square feet per bird. After 9 weeks you should plan for at least 4 square feet per bird. Of course, if you can give the birds more space then it is always better.
Providing your ducklings with opportunities to swim and safely explore outdoors will give them plenty of chances for exercise.
How to treat Angel Wing
The earlier you catch this deformity, the better your chances are for correcting it. Once the duck is full grown, it will be permanent.
Sometimes the cause is hereditary, sometimes the cause is unknown. But the first step in correcting it is making sure the duckling’s diet is correct and that they are getting enough exercise.
With both of those corrected at the very least, the deformity shouldn’t get any worse. To correct the growth that has already happened you will need to wrap the wing to encourage it to lay flat against the body as it grows.
To wrap the wing, use VetWrap to securely (but not too tightly) bind her wing to her side. You could separately wrap the wing and then wrap around the body, or just do one long strip around the body & wing together.
Depending on the severity of the deformity this could take one week to several weeks. It’s best to let the duck have some time each day unwrapped so she can flap her wings and use her muscles.
What if the Angel Wing can’t be corrected?
As a domestic duck, your duck can’t fly anyway so this deformity shouldn’t affect her quality of life. In very severe cases she might lose some mobility in her wing, but for the most part, this should not stop her from living a full & happy life.