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For many, feeding birds at ponds and parks is a cherished childhood memory; one they lovingly recreate for their children and grandchildren. Tragically, thousands of birds die annually due to a condition overwhelmingly caused by people who don’t know this beloved activity can be deadly.

What is Angel Wing?

“Angel wing” is a deformity commonly found in ducks, geese, swans, and other waterfowl. There has been little scientific study done on the condition, yet most wildlife and waterfowl experts agree the overwhelming cause of angel wing is an unhealthily-high protein and/or carbohydrate-based diet. The disorder causes the last joint in one or both wings to unnaturally twist outward, rather than lying flat against the bird’s body.

Feeding White Bread to Wild Birds is Killing ThemDeborah Robbins Millman

Birds with angel wing are stripped of their ability to fly and therefore their main method of defense. Since the affected birds are unable to escape predators, they are often maimed or killed by them. Additionally, when life-threatening weather conditions develop, they are unable to fly away to safety, and instead starve, succumbing to injuries or freeze to death.

How Do Birds Contract Angel Wing?

The birds most likely to contract angel wing are those residing in parks, on ponds, and in public areas where people feed them unhealthy food. As they grow, young birds subsisting on white bread and other inappropriate food sources can develop issues preventing their bones from forming normally, resulting in angel wing.

Feeding White Bread to Wild Birds is Killing ThemMichaels: Ross Michaels

Because birds grow much more rapidly than humans, each day’s nutrition has a direct effect on development. Even a few days of improper eating can cause irreparable damage. Studies suggest feeding waterfowl an unhealthy diet can accelerate growth, causing the wing to develop too quickly for proper bone support.

How Is Angel Wing Treated?

Cape Wildlife Center, a Barnstable, Mass.-based wildlife rehabilitation center operated by The Fund for Animals, an affiliate of The Humane Society of the United States, treats about 2,000 animals per year, including a significant number of geese, swans, and ducks suffering from angel wing. The highest incidence of admission is late fall or winter when affected birds have grown enough for the condition to be fully and painfully apparent.

If the patients treated are very young, the condition can sometimes be minimized by splinting and repositioning the affected wing while feeding them a proper diet for optimal growth. Even then, a full recovery is not guaranteed. For rehabilitators, it can be emotionally taxing to see birds denied the chance for a full and productive life because people didn’t know about the dangers of improperly feeding them.

Feeding White Bread to Wild Birds is Killing ThemDeborah Robbins Millman

For adult birds, the condition is almost always a death sentence: They are struck by cars, killed by predators, or die from nutritional deficiencies or weather extremes. Even birds who are rescued and brought to a rehabilitation center will surely die if set free. They must be placed with a sanctuary for the remainder of their life, and there are not enough sanctuaries to meet demand.

How Can I Help?

Angel wing can be drastically reduced by not feeding birds “people food,” including white bread, popcorn, or crackers. This simple rule will literally save lives.

This doesn’t mean the enjoyable and bonding activity of feeding birds must be eliminated – you just have to identify areas where feeding waterfowl is supported, and offer the birds the right food to sustain their health.

Nutritious waterfowl feed or duck pellets are inexpensive, easy to carry, and can be purchased at most feed stores. Seedless grapes cut in half, shredded kale, Swiss chard or romaine lettuce, and grains, including wheat, barley and oats, are all healthy food sources that will appeal to most waterfowl. Make sure anything you feed is bite-sized to avoid choking hazards.

Feeding wild birds a proper diet preserves a treasured family tradition while teaching children the importance of making choices that strengthen, rather than undercut, the human-animal bond. In this way, we will rear generations of people recognizing the necessity for responsible stewardship and celebrate the value of compassionate co-existence with wildlife.

Lead image source: Michaels: Ross Michaels

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66 comments on “Feeding White Bread to Wild Birds is Killing Them”

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6 Months Ago

Nah, I don\'t believe this at all. I\'ve been feeding the ducks and geese at our local public park for years now and don\'t plan on stopping anytime soon just because there\'s speculation it might possibly be killing them. Talk about spreading misinformation.

Olivia Lafgrin
1 Years Ago

Cracked corn, available for $6 to 6.50 per 50 pound sack from a grain store or grain mill here in Central Pennsylvania is better (cheaper too!) than nutionally deficient white bread, according to the Internet search I did. Junk food.

My story; February 2014 with the forecast of single digits, I wanted to do something for the 85 mallard ducks which reside, more or less, behind Kleinfelters Auction house. I used a spagetti strainer to dig rounded impressions in the snow then went back put in handfulls of corn, repeating as they became empty and the ducks moved away.

This reduced the scattering of the corn and dug several holes so each hole was harboring a group without any fighting.

Little did I realize that the the mallards were starved because the snow cover had lasted two months straight. The little girls and I were able to pet the ducks as they threw caution to the wind in order to survive. Don\'t worry; the fear returned after the snow melted.

I just wanted to fill their belly, going through the 50# in 3 equal parts in one week. 2 weeks later I repeated it.

I had never hear of angel wing. I have no love for Canadian geese because in the NY/NJ/PA area they easily make any grassy area unwalkable due to their droppings.

1 Years Ago

Irrespective of all the colourful (sorry, colorful) ways you Americans have to say you somewhat disagree with an article, its essence is correct. See e.g. this from Michigan State University: http://www.kbs.msu.edu/visit/birdsanctuary/bird-news/771-wing-deformities-in-waterfowl-angel-wing.

Furthermore, excess bread feeding on restricted water bodies allows harmful moulds and fungi to develop and is associated with Flamingo Feather Syndrome in Mute Swans. see an example here: https://www.facebook.com/GalwaySPCA/posts/438187079590416

Too much food lying around encourages rats and other vermin to frequent the area which may well reduce bird breeding success.

Marion Ambler
1 Years Ago

"Nutritious waterfowl feed or duck pellets are inexpensive"

SORRY, but one theory about angel wing is that it is caused by people trying to avoid feeding them junk food, so they buy these pellets.

These commercial pellets have different formulas for different aged birds...... and some have too much protein for growing goslings. Angel wing IS a growth deformity they have to develop as a growing gosling.

So you have just recommended something they believe may be causing angel wing. If they just buy \'nutritious pellets for waterfowl\' they may be buying pellets for adults which contain too much protein.

And it is a myth angel wing only occurs in birds fed human food. "Incidence of Wing Deformities (‘Angel Wing’) Among Masked Boobies at Clipperton Island"


It is also thought it may be related to injuries sustained by pecking by the other bird. It is also TREATABLE by wiildlife rehabbers if noticed early on.

"The wings of ducks and geese may stick out from their body; this is called Angel wing in ducks and geese the causes are not life threatening, and treatment is easy. In many cases this happens when they are pecked at by other ducks or geese, but it can also be caused by excess protein in their diet."


This is really not a well researched article at all.

18 Apr 2014

Thank you for sharing!

1 Years Ago

actually angel wing is caused by too much protein in the diet and can be genetically linked.... not caused by bread, however moldy bread would be very bad as the toxins can kill.... but this article is bull crap. take it from someone that raises ducks for a living... granted people food is not healthy but the animals usually get along fine.

Marion Ambler
1 Years Ago

I live in Vancouver, BC where we have a lot of permanent resident Canada geese. I have followed a large group of over 100 in my area for more than 5 years....I do feed them small bits of wholewheat bread after some cracked corn. The geese also like to raise goslings in an area there is always a LOT of people and a lot of people feeding them junk. There has never been angel wing here.

Angel wing has been found in wild birds including boobies where it was thought it could be related to PCBS or other pollution.

It has also been thought to be linked to high protein commercial poultry pellets some people buy thinking it is \'real goose food\' .....however they buy an adult formula with higher protein in it than is healthy for young developing birds.

People spreading this myth white bread kills birds and causes angel wing are spreading misinformation. If that was so we would see it in many more areas.

The other thing is adults do not develop angel wing...they have to develop this as goslings as it\'s a growth related deformity.

White bread is junk food and also hard to swallow if you throw big pieces....but it simply is not a killer that is causing angel wing.

1 Years Ago

I have NEVER in my whole life seen this affliction and I have spent most of my life dealing with wildlife both in community ponds and estuaries and in my own backyard that has four ponds. We get wild geese, ducks, mergansets etc. and not a single one has had this affliction called angel wings and I hae never seen it in any parks, zoos, shopping mall ponds etc. It may exist but I have a hard time believing it is caused by white bread only. If it does happen s often as they say, it would seem to me that there is a genetic componen to it and has to do with lack of nutrition from where they are living, not from a couple of souls feeding them crusts off their sandwiches.

1 Years Ago

I call bullshet. The only reason they are malnutrition-ed is because most ponds and small lakes usually lack the resources to properly supply food to a large flock of ducks and geese. Feeding a few slices of bread to some ducks doesn\'t do jack crap. Yea i read the study they did on this by only feeding a group bread only but guess what that doesnt provide real world scenarios, the ducks dont sit there and eat bread 24/7 every day. there is a mix in their diet. Besides if bread really has no nutritional value then the duck would still be hungry and in need of eating something else but if there is a lack of proper food then they may not get to eat. Ducks and geese are highly competitive on eating often there are many in the flock that may not get to eat when a good source is found. Its not really our fault they may get a little bread and nothing else to eat.

Pedro Carlos Alves
1 Years Ago

Obviously! No news here!

Elaine Monaghan
1 Years Ago

I believe it...it kills humans too.


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