Urban legend claiming birds explode if you feed them rice put to the test

If you’ve ever heard the urban legend that feeding uncooked rice to birds will make them explode, well, it’s not true.

The myth started to gain ground in the US after legislators tried to introduce a bill to stop people throwing uncooked rice over newlyweds at wedding ceremonies.

Bizarrely, it was argued that when birds ate the rice, it would expand in their stomach and end up killing them.

A US Representative called Mae S. Schmidle publicised the idea in support of the bill – which, in the end, wasn’t passed.

‘Unfortunately, when the birds eat the raw rice, they cannot digest it. When it gets in their stomachs, it expands and causes them to have violent deaths,’ Schmidle said at the time.

She added: ‘I’ve heard from several ministers who say that the next morning after a wedding, they see all these birds toppled over because they got poisoned by the rice.’

The myth was dismissed by experts at the time.

‘I have 50 years of professional experience as a practicing ornithologist and I’ve never heard of such a thing before,’ president of the Connecticut Ornithological Association Roland C. Clement told AP.

But, as IFLScience points out, it continued to be circulated and was most recently discredited in 2002 when scientist James J. Krupa conducted an experiment with his students to show them how wrong the idea was.

The students tested different grains of rice to find out how much they expanded and discovered than none did so as much as common bird feed.

Going further, they fed the one type of rice that expands the most – instant white rice – to pigeons over the course of 12 hours, along with copious amounts of water.

‘[Sixty] birds ate 1,500 [milliliters] of instant white rice. They ate the instant rice vigorously then drank during the first 20 minutes,’ Krupa wrote in a piece for the American Biology Teacher, published a couple of years later.

‘No birds choked to death, exploded, or otherwise died. No birds regurgitated rice or water. No birds showed any sign of distress.

‘The flock continued to feed on the rice for the rest of the day without problem.’

So next time you hear anyone suggest that uncooked rice may result in exploding birds, you can politely explain the entire idea is complete fiction.

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