Many people believe you should never feed birds rice, particularly uncooked ones, because the food will expand within the animal’s stomach. As a result, the bird’s belly can “explode” from eating rice.
However, is this rumor really true? Do birds explode when they eat rice? No, you will never see a bird exploding from rice. In fact, many birds, particularly migratory ones, have rice as a regular part of their diet!
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Exploring the Myth That Rice Makes Birds Explode
The story goes that if birds eat raw rice, the grain will expand in their stomach. Unfortunately, birds’ stomachs aren’t flexible enough to handle the expansion, causing the avians to explode.
- In 1985
It is unclear exactly when and who started this myth. Still, it was convincing enough to move Connecticut State Representative Mae S. Schmidle to propose a bill concerning the use of uncooked rice in marital affairs in 1985.
The bill makes it illegal for uncooked rice to be thrown at any point during wedding ceremonies. This was to prevent possibly harming or even killing birds should they accidentally eat the rice.
The bill was never passed. The myth, however, persisted.
- In 1988
It’s not only politicians who fell for the myth: journalists did too.
In 1988, newspaper columnist Ann Landers supported and applauded a bride-to-be’s desire to ban her guests from throwing rice at her wedding. It was an extremely dangerous practice, she wrote, since rice could make birds explode.
Cornell ornithologist Steven Sibley couldn’t resist the urge to write Landers to point out the absurdity of her claim, leading her to retract it three months later. By then, however, the myth had already spread a little further.
- In 2007
Two decades later, a few cartoonists couldn’t resist the urge to dig up the myth once more and bring it onto TV screens. In particular, the story was featured in Season 18, Episode 15 of The Simpsons entitled “Rome-old and Juli-eh,” which first aired in 2007.
In the episode, Lisa Simpson tells her father, Bart, not to throw rice so birds wouldn’t swell up. Following genuine Simpsons humor, her statement was followed by three birds seen exploding in the background.
Exposing the Legend of Birds Eating Rice And Exploding
- Rice expansion rate is negligible
As the legend goes, rice will expand in a bird’s stomach so much it will eventually explode.
The first part of the myth is accurate: rice does expand when cooked. When exposed to heat, the rice’s starch softens, allowing the grain to absorb water. This makes it soften up and swell and become ready to eat.
However, rice doesn’t expand as much as it does in people’s imaginations. The American Biology Teacher journal featured an experiment by University of Kentucky professor James Krupa.
In the experiment, Krupa and his students proved that bird seeds expand much more than rice. After being exposed to water, bird seeds grew an average of 40%, much larger than rice’s 33%! If anything, we should be worried about birds eating bird seeds!
- Birds’ stomach is flexible enough to accommodate expanded food
There are many things wrong with the second part of the myth, too. For one, bird stomachs can expand. They aren’t inflexible, unyielding pouches.
Second, if birds overeat, they can throw up the excess food. In other words, a bird will never explode due to overeating.
- Birds’ stomach isn’t enough to make rice fully expand
Birds’ stomachs simply aren’t hot enough to cook rice. An average bird’s body temperature is between 39-43°C (102-109°F). To cook rice, water needs to reach boiling point at 100°C (212°F)!
- Birds excrete waste frequently
Lastly, birds’ digestion is faster than we often remember. Did you know that parakeets poop every 15 minutes, while budgies even go as often as every 5-10 minutes?
Generally, anything birds eat is typically excreted in, at most, a few hours. This does not give rice anywhere near enough time to expand to the point of hurting a bird, assuming its stomach was warm enough to cook it in the first place.
All these reasons have caused frustrated scientists to repeat themselves for decades: it is not true pigeons explode when they eat rice.
What Happens When a Bird Eats Rice or Cooked Rice?
Can you feed rice to birds? Most certainly!
Cooked rice is fine for birds–even baby birds eat cooked rice.
Rice gives birds healthy doses of Vitamins B and E, iron, calcium, and magnesium. It also gives them a quick energy boost especially important for migrating birds.
Uncooked rice good for birds, also, though most prefer not to. Generally, only pigeons, doves, and pheasants will willingly gobble up uncooked rice.
“What about instant rice?” You may be wondering. Krupa tested that, too. For 12 hours, he fed his 60-strong flock of pigeons and doves as much instant rice as they wanted.
At the end of the day, the birds were completely fine. They also seemed to have developed a taste for instant rice, getting a “little addicted” to it, Krupa claimed.
However, while rice is safe for birds, it is still not a natural part of their diet. Therefore, they should only be fed rice occasionally rather than on a daily basis.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which bird likes to eat rice?
Animals adapt to their environment. So, the birds that like to eat rice are typically those that live near rice farms. These species include but are not limited to
- American blackbirds, including the red-winged blackbird
- Blue jays
- Pigeons, and
Since rice grains are on the larger side, they are typically enjoyed by bigger bird species more than by smaller birds.
What food makes birds explode?
Other foods are rumored to make birds explode aside from rice, such as baking soda, oats, and Alka-Seltzers. None of these make birds explode.
However, there IS something that will make birds explode: calcium carbide or magnesium silicide. If somehow ingested, these chemicals create acetylene gas inside pigeons’ stomachs, which will explode when it comes into contact with oxygen.
What should you not feed birds?
Can’t birds eat rice? Yes, they can! But there are other things they can’t. For their safety, never feed birds the following food:
- Fruit pits and apple seeds
Do birds explode when they eat rice? No–birds won’t explode if they eat rice your wedding guests throw at you. The myth has been continuously debunked for the past four decades.
Still, many couples have switched to confetti in response to the legend. But, it may be better to return to rice if your venue permits it. Rice, at least, is safe for birds and naturally biodegradable.
If birds end up pecking at your paper, metallic, or plastic confetti scattered on the sidewalk, that will be more harmful to them and the entire planet in the long run.
George and I became friends after a birdwatching trip with our new group. And we have been enjoying every adventure together. When he told me the idea of establishing a site that shares our experiences and fun, I immediately agreed. After trials and errors, here we have Thayerbirding.