UT experts: Feeding geese could destroy their ability to fly

For many people, going out to a pond and feeding the geese may seem like no big deal. For a lot of families, it's a tradition.

"People always coming out here and fishing. Enjoying the sun and the view and the fountain would be going. The ducks would come around to play. We would just throw bread out to the birds and they would come up and eat them. We never thought twice about it," said Adam Stallings, Knoxville resident.

But experts at UT said the family tradition could be causing more harm to the birds than good.

"That's not a good diet for them. As a matter of fact, if they are young and growing and they get a little too much of that carbohydrate they can grow too fast and get a condition called Angel Wing that makes it so they can never fly," said Dr. Cheryl Greenacre, with UT Veterinary Medical Center.

Experts said more and more birds are being afflicted with "angel wings" and it's something that can't be reversed.

"That's not normal," Greenacre said. "They can be caught by predators, they may not be able to migrate with the rest of their flock, and of course can't fly."

UT scientists said the growth likely comes from people feeding the birds high-calorie foods like bread.

"Geese are grazers so they need to be getting their natural vitamins and minerals from the grass that they're eating," Greenacre said. "Unfortunately, bread doesn't have that."

There are signs posted at several ponds warning people not to feed the birds, one of which is in Fountain City. Residents hope they can begin to raise awareness to the issue.

"Well if they want to enjoy their natural surroundings, they don't want to hurt them," Stallings said. "So obviously they need to know what's actually going on, that they are doing more harm than good. Otherwise, nobody else will be able to enjoy it either."

Facts about Angel Wing Syndrome:

  • It is a condition in waterfowl that causes part of the wing to rotate outward and impairs the bird
  • Also called airplane wing and slipped wing
  • It has been around for decades
  • Theories range from excess dietary protein, carbohydrates or calories to vitamin deficiencies or genetics
  • Can only be caused by humans feeding them, according to UT experts
  • It cannot be reversed unless the bird is still a baby

How You Can Help:

State wildlife departments and veterinarians ask the public to avoid feeding the birds any bread or popcorn.


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