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Duck emergency - broken feather

This morning while I was working I was very surprised when Justin ran in and pointed out the window at our little raft (this is what you call a flock of ducks FYI). Little Sky, who had only been on our farm for a week, had a bloody wing. Immediately I grabbed the first aid kit and we ran outside. Justin held her and I examined. It was hard to tell where the blood was coming from at first, but soon I found the culprit! A broken blood feather! luckily with my years of having parrots and other birds, I knew about this, but its still scary and can be an emergency! So what is a blood feather? Each feather arises from a feather follicle in the skin. They are arranged over the body in specific patterns or tracts and there are areas of the bird's body that do not have feathers (called apterylae). these are not on traditional ducks but can be found on Muscovy Ducks and chickens around their combs and waddles for example.

When a feather is pulled out or falls out during a normal moult, a new feather is stimulated to start growing right away (Just like your hair). As the new feather (called a pin or a blood feather) emerges from the skins feather follicle, it looks like a spike, quill or much like the feather shaft itself. This new feather has a blood supply flowing through it and is encased by a keratin coating or feather sheath. The base, where the feather is developing and being nourished by blood, is a dark blue color. On smaller feathers such as those around the head, the base may be a red or pink color. Pin feathers are sensitive, and birds may not enjoy being handled while moulting.

As the feather continues to grow, the tip will mature first. You can see this in the image above where the feathers have started to emerge from the casing. The bird will gradually preen off the keratin feather sheath from the maturing feather tip and the newly formed feather will emerge. Sky had a broken pin feather. to treat this you need to act quickly.

  1. clean the spot. I put her in our big farm house sink but you could use the hose or a wet towel. You need to be able to locate the bleeding and be able to see if they continue bleeding after the process.

2. you will probably need some help if your duck is skittish or fiesty. Justin helped me but I think I could have held her on my lap. With a pair of pliers (or teeezers for a small feather or small bird), you need to completely pull out the broken feather. It really isn’t going to hurt them that much. And you are going to have to yank pretty hard. They are going to hate being restrained much much more then they will notice you pulling the feather. Sky didn’t even twitch.

3. wipe it clean if you need too again and pack it tight with corn starch. Then apply preasure for a few minutes. - make sure you have some corn starch dumped out on a napkin or bowl so you don’t contaminate the whole box. When I say “pack” it I just mean layer a lot on it like you are trying to soak up anything on the feather. You can’t really do too much. It won’t hurt them and more works better.

they should be fine after that but you may need to go check the area you found them at to see if there is something they are hurting themselves on. Sometimes they rub up against something sticking out (like a broken fence piece or a wire) and break a feather. Sometimes they get in a little argument with a buddy. it happens. Just make sure that they are safe and anything dangerous is removed. If you notice that they are still bleeding after several minutes you may need to locate an additional broken feather or you may need to put pressure harder and longer. of course you should contact your vet with any issues, but it is a very common injury in all birds and it is usually easily fixed.

if you find yourself unprepared... you can usually pull the feather out with your fingers. if you don’t have corn starch you can use flour or if you don’t have any just use a clean, dry paper towel and hold pressure. These fixes don’t work as well but they will do in a pinch.

Black Molasses is a wonderful vitamin for ducks especially that helps them through a molt. Chickens need the added protein at this time so get some some meal worms or fish meal.

Sky had a happy ending and got some snuggles for an hour or more... Justin is a big softie with the animals

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