Birds Do Not Explode From Eating Rice ~ What Really Happens

Birds Are Not Harmed By Eating Uncooked Rice ~

Birds will not explode from eating uncooked rice found in fields or on the ground, or even in a church parking lot.
Birds will not explode from eating uncooked rice found in fields or on the ground, or even in a church parking lot. | Source
No one would want to intentionally harm the pretty wild birds by feeding them uncooked rice.
No one would want to intentionally harm the pretty wild birds by feeding them uncooked rice. | Source
Blackbirds are usually the biggest culprits when it comes to eating rice in fields, especially in southwest Louisiana.
Blackbirds are usually the biggest culprits when it comes to eating rice in fields, especially in southwest Louisiana. | Source

I Always Thought This Was Why Rice Is No Longer Allowed To Be Thrown At Weddings ~

For hundreds and maybe even thousands of years, throwing rice over a married couple has been a traditional practice used to wish the newly married couple well. Rice was thought to symbolize prosperity in a fruitful harvest of crops, fertility and good luck . Every married couple when they are just starting out probably needs a little bit of each of these things. In fact, it's thought that this tradition may even go as far back as to ancient Egyptian times.

So, why would we take a perfectly good tradition and try to stifle it by starting a rumor that uncooked rice can kill wild birds if they eat it? It is thought that this rumor began as a way to get people to stop throwing rice at weddings simply because of the human factor, not due to any danger to the wild birds who potentially would eat it.

It was thought that rice on sidewalks outside of churches could make Aunt Helen slip and fall. Or maybe Uncle Henry in his sky blue straight-from-the-1970s polyester leisure suit could possibly take a nasty tumble, resulting in his toupee falling off... I mean resulting in a lawsuit. Churches and other wedding venues certainly didn't want to become part of any potentially expensive litigation by those attending weddings, so rice was "outlawed" so to speak at weddings held at certain venues.

The rumor claimed that when wild birds eat the uncooked white rice, it would absorb the water in their stomachs and expand, thereby causing the bird to come to a nasty and perilous end by exploding. Millions of people being nature and wildlife lovers certainly didn't want to be responsible for causing the demise of thousands of wild birds, so rice stopped being used at weddings in order to keep these birds safe.

The only problem is, rice is absolutely NOT dangerous in any way to wild birds. In fact, many birds rely on rice when it is planted in fields for their sustenance. It does not expand in their stomachs and does not cause them to explode.

It was found instead that the way rice really expands is by exposure to boiling water. The little bit of water that could possibly be found inside of a birds stomach is not nearly enough volume-wise and is not at a hot enough temperature to cause rice to expand. The water inside of a bird's stomach most certainly would not be boiling. Instead, when birds eat uncooked rice, what really happens is that their stomach acid begins to break the rice down and starts digesting it long before the rice ever would even have a chance to "expand" in the birds stomachs causing them any kind of harm.

This idea that rice is harmful to wild birds reached its most popular point in the late 1980s. It was actually an idea that was brought up in a session of the legislature in the state of Connecticut to ban the throwing of rice at weddings. Soon afterwards, the popular advice columnist Ann Lander's heard of the story of the proposed legislation and wrote a column about it. From there, the rumor took off like wildfire (which incidentally would be a lot more harmful to birds than uncooked rice ever could be).

Bobolinks Are Sometimes Called "Rice Birds" Because Of Their Rice Diet ~

A picture of a Bobolink taken by the United States fish and wildlife service. These birds have earned the nickname "rice bird" because of their affinity for eating rice.
A picture of a Bobolink taken by the United States fish and wildlife service. These birds have earned the nickname "rice bird" because of their affinity for eating rice. | Source

MythBusters Explore The Myth ~

It Turns Out That Wild Birds Eat Uncooked Rice All The Time ~

Who would have ever thought it? It turns out that wild birds eat uncooked rice all the time with no ill effects from it. Who knew?

In fact, there are several types of migratory birds, waterfowl and shorebirds that eat rice all the time. Some birds even rely on rice in the wintertime to help to keep their weight up to a good level so they will stay healthy throughout the winter.

There is one type of bird, known as a bobolink, who has earned the nickname "rice bird" because of its reliance on a diet consisting mostly of uncooked rice. There are even some rice farmers, especially in southwest Louisiana, who consider birds and especially black birds to be pests when they are planting their annual rice fields.

I read one story that I found to be fascinating about how black birds in southwest Louisiana fly down there for the winter. They have become extreme pests to the rice farmers there, and I'm sure there are some rice farmers that may even go so far as to wish that rice DID make birds explode!

It turns out that these birds migrate there by the thousands and when planes are getting ready to fly over rice fields to begin planting rice seeds (which is basically uncooked rice), the birds actually hear the planes used to plant these fields and follow those planes. Once the rice is planted, birds swoop down and many times they will nearly pick the rice field clean! Farmers in Louisiana, understandably, have become pretty frustrated with these black birds and consider them to be pests.

Once the birds have finished "feasting" on the Louisiana rice fields, they fly north for the summer to pester other farmers up in the Midwest by picking seeds from soybean and corn fields! As a matter of fact, the seeds and other things that birds eat naturally as a part of their diet expand more than rice ever could in their stomachs. So, the idea that rice will expand in birds stomachs and cause them to explode is a myth that started years ago and keeps being passed down.

I Think This Would Have Been A Fascinating Biology Class To Be A Student In ~

People have wondered about the prevailing myth that birds who eat uncooked rice could potentially explode from their stomachs expanding so much. It turns out that there really was a biology experiment done by a class from the University of Kentucky in 2002. The class professor, a man named James Krupa, kept birds as a hobby and loved having them around. He had quite a collection of birds, more than 60 of them.

He and his biology students, a group of about 600 students, decided to do an experiment to see if it was only a myth that birds would explode from inside out by eating uncooked rice. They calculated how much many different types of grains would expand when exposed to water, and came up with some interesting results.

It turned out that other grains and bird seed expanded even more than rice does when exposed to water. In fact, the typical bird seed used in most feeders expands quite a bit more than rice will in water. The type of rice needed to even see measurable expansion was instant rice, either brown or white rice. But, even these types of rice did not expand enough to harm the birds stomachs.

Their results showed that a normal typical diet of bird seed and grains fed to birds expanded about 40%, while rice in its uncooked form expanded only about 33%. To keep from experimenting on real birds, the students made mock ups of birds by using some very thin plastic and some paper bags. When wet, the rice expanded only a little and not enough to make any of the paper bags "explode."

Not totally satisfied with these results using prototypes of real birds, the students asked professor Krupa if they could try the test on his pet birds. He allowed sixty of his own pet birds to be fed a diet of nothing but rice and water for a day, and then he and his students watched the birds carefully for any signs of distress. It was not even much of a surprise that there were no signs of distress on the part of the birds.

None of the birds showed any evidence of digestive upsets, no throwing up, no choking, and certainly no exploding of birds. Now while rice doesn't harm birds, it is still kind of a dangerous thing to use at a wedding due to the fact that people could slip and fall on it.

As a rule, many churches today prefer that celebrants wish the wedding couple well using something like bubbles instead. I think if they really were to look into that, the bubbles would potentially be more dangerous to the environment than rice would. I mean, you're putting soap detergent onto the grass and sidewalks... oh my! Pollution from a wedding! What WILL the environmentalists say when they get a hold of this one?

As a side note, the use of confetti in many places has become illegal, which is something that I didn't realize. Throwing confetti is illegal in Mobile, Alabama, in parts of Florida, in parts of Louisiana during Mardi Gras and in parts of Texas. I imagine it's because of the difficulty of cleaning the confetti from public areas once it's been thrown.

So next time you are at a wedding, if they ask that rice not be thrown, I would listen and find another way to celebrate instead. At least you'll know that the reason they are asking that rice not be thrown is not because of any potential harm to birds, it's more likely that there is a fear of lawsuits by the two-legged wedding attendees.

More by this Author


Comments 12 comments

Dale Hyde profile image

Dale Hyde 4 years ago from Tropical Paradise on Planet X

Thanks for this. I am 56 years old, and to be honest, it was not until this past year that I found this not to be factual. I always simply believed what I had heard over the years and made the assumption that it was true.

Well done. Voted up, interesting and useful.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

That was really quite interesting. Plus, I have never seen a bobolink before. :) Great hub!


Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

Fun hub, Kathy. Some people will believe almost anything they read about animals. Some believe that dry dog food expands in the dog's stomach just like it does when he knocks it into his bowl of water.

As you pointed out, food gets broken down pretty quickly by digestive enzymes and the digestive process.

I think another fear of throwing rice is that you'll put somebody's eye out. Didn't our mothers warn us about that!! Voted up, funny and interesting.


KathyH profile image

KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

Thanks so much, Dale! So glad you found this interesting and useful~ I didn't realize either that this was just a myth until I decided to learn more about it. Thanks so much for commenting and for the great votes, I appreciate that! :)


KathyH profile image

KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

Thanks, billybuc! :) Glad you were able to see something new! :) Glad you enjoyed reading, thanks so much for your terrific support! :)


KathyH profile image

KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

Thanks so much for your great comment, Bob! :) I think you might be right about putting someone's eye out! :) I always loved the movie "Christmas Story" because of that line about the BB Gun! It's a classic line! :) And one that Mothers around the world probably use! Thanks so much for reading and for the great votes, I appreciate it so much! :)


shiningirisheyes profile image

shiningirisheyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

Isn't it reassuring to know our legislature spends their time coming up with a ban for throwing rice at weddings! Thank goodness! I thought they were in session to actually come up with a new version for sliced bread!

On a serious note - great hub.


KathyH profile image

KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

Thanks, Beckie! Isn't that funny? Craziness, pure craziness! ;) I always love your comments! :)


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Good to know, Kathy. I would imagine this also happens to humans when eating rice? Very interesting read.


KathyH profile image

KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

Thanks, Dianna! I imagine if we were to eat uncooked rice, it would be just like when birds do that. I think our stomach acid would begin to digest it before it would even have the chance to expand and do any harm. Good thought! :) Thanks so much for reading and for your comment! : )


JMHolmes profile image

JMHolmes 3 years ago from Canada

Wow, who would have thought? I too asked rice not be thrown at my wedding thinking it would hurt the birds!


KathyH profile image

KathyH 3 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

Thanks for reading JMHolmes! :) Many people did think it would hurt birds, and most people, feeling very loving towards innocent animals, saw not throwing rice as a good precaution. It won't hurt them, but if people want to substitute something else instead of rice, that's good too! Thanks so much for reading! :)

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working