Posted tagged ‘city birds’

Mysteries of the City Bird: Wing Deformities and…Midnight Rites?

June 27, 2010

The goslings in Morningside Park are growing up. When they were babies, all four looked very much the same.

But as their adult feathers began to grow, it became increasingly clear that two of the goslings suffer from a deformity of the wing feathers.

The wing feathers jut out at an uncomfortable-looking angle, making it impossible for the goslings to fold their wings against their bodies, as other geese can. As the weeks have passed, the handicap has become increasingly evident.

The useless wings are not yet a disadvantage, as none of the goslings is old enough to fly and all are protected by vigilant  parents.  “Hyper-vigilant” might more accurately describe the father.

But it’s pretty clear these geese will never fly.

Over the past weeks, I’ve discussed the goslings with several Morningside Park regulars who have watched generations of goslings grow up in the pond.  All confirm that a few goslings in each brood suffer from the same wing deformity.  But when it comes to theories about the cause of the deformity, theories diverge.

Some observers blame dietary deficiencies, maintaining that too much white bread, fed by park visitors, prevents the feathers from forming properly. One man insists that the feathers break when the birds make their way through dense reeds that have now been cut down. Others, including Tom, a herpetologist/zoologist with the Bronx Botanical Garden, believe it is a congenital deformity.


Tom grew up near the park, used to work in it, and knows more about its flora and fauna than anyone I’ve talked to.  I asked Tom what would happen to the deformed goslings. In past years, he said, the Urban Park Rangers have taken them to a sanctuary upstate where they can live out their days waddling about and swimming in safety.

In the wild, geese with such a handicap would not survive. Here in the park, they are doing fine.

Which is more than than can be said for … someone.

Piles of white downy feathers

Deep piles of white down lined the stone staircase at the south end of the pond.  For a brief moment, as I climbed the steps, I thought perhaps a hawk or falcon had, for some strange reason, chosen to pluck their victim on the stairs rather than in the safety of a high spot.

But last I heard, the local raptors don’t cook.

Burn circle with feathers

What went on here?  Sacrificial ritual?  Santeria?

There’s plenty of weekend barbecuing in Morningside, but it takes place in grills along the eastern edge and doesn’t leave behind piles of fresh feathers.

I welcome your thoughts as to what happened here. If you have any ideas, please leave a comment.

Esau ponders feathers

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