Blissful wedding guests have thrown uncooked rice in celebration of a newlywed couple in the past - but in more recent years many venues have banned the throwing of rice. Hearsay and myth tells of uncooked rice causing birds to die or even explode. These rumors even led to a 1985 bill calling for the practice to be banned. Can birds eat rice, or is it actually unsafe for them?
Can Birds Eat Rice?
Despite the aforementioned bill, which claimed that uncooked rice expands and causes damage, rice does not harm birds in any way. In fact, rice actually expands less than birdseed does when soaked in water! Snopes notes that in an experiment eventually published in the peer-reviewed journal American Biology Teacher, biology professor James Krupa determined that soaked white rice expanded by 33 percent while soaked birdseed expanded by 40 percent.
Prior to this experiment, ornithologist Steven C. Sibley released a statement in response to the 1985 bill and subsequent news stories. He assured the public that rice poses no threat to birds and is easily ground down by their crop. Sibley mentioned that "Many birds love rice, as any frustrated rice farmer will tell you."
The Red-Winged Blackbird and the Bobolink
Sibley's assertion that birds happily feed on farmers' crops certainly wasn't an overreach. In fact, many bird species feed on uncooked rice in rice paddies prior to harvest. Two species, in particular, pose a problem to rice farmers: the Red-winged Blackbird and the Bobolink.
Red-winged Blackbirds roost in large colonies and feed on various seeds and agricultural crops. Rice fields, also known as paddies, aren't the only target of this bird species. They also feed on sunflower seeds, corn and other ripe crops. Bobolinks also have a history of feeding on rice, though to a lesser degree than Red-winged Blackbirds.
What Foods Are Safe for Birds?
Rice certainly isn't your only option when feeding birds. Birdseed is a great staple for many types of birds, and you can also provide them with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. The best choice of fruit or vegetable depends on the birds you are feeding. However, there are a few specific foods to avoid with all birds.
Parts of avocados can be toxic to birds, and you should avoid feeding that fruit to them. Additionally, celery, bread and iceberg lettuce provide little or no nutritional value to the birds, thus doing more harm than good.
Can You Feed Ducks Rice?
In some birds, such as ducks, feeding bread can result in physical deformities like angel wing, which prevents the bird from flying. Instead of bread, rice is actually one of the many healthy alternatives for you to feed your feathered friends at the local park. However, cooked plain rice is better for ducks than uncooked rice.
Other options for food to feed ducks include frozen peas or corn, which should be defrosted prior to feeding. You can also choose from wheat, birdseed, grapes, mealworms, oats and more.
Should You Feed Wild Birds at All?
Researchers have debated the costs and benefits of feeding wild birds, often stating that feeding birds creates a reliance on people and prevents the birds from searching for their own food. However, in the case of bird feeders, you can rest easy knowing that the birds do not become reliant on you as a food source.
Researchers have found that the removal of longstanding bird feeders during the winter did not result in higher mortality. The birds could successfully find other food to survive the winter. Other research has also shown that bird feeders can increase reproductive success.
However, bird feeders do increase disease transmission in bird populations. For example, in June 2021, hundreds of songbirds perished over the course of a month in Indiana, resulting in a statewide call to remove bird feeders and stop the spread of the illness.
To safely feed your backyard birds, be sure to frequently clean your bird feeders and birdbaths to help prevent the spread of disease and remove the bird feeders in the event of an outbreak.
- AP News: Bill Would Ban Rice at Weddings
- Snopes: Is Throwing Rice at Weddings Bad for Birds?
- Animal Diversity Web: Red-Winged Blackbird
- Animal Diversity Web: Bobolink
- VCA: Fruits and Vegetables in Birds' Diets
- The Conversation: What to Feed Ducks – According to Science
- Science Daily: Don't Worry, Birds Won't Become Dependent on You Feeding Them, Study Suggests
- WishTV News: Indiana Calls on Removal of Bird Feeders; Sick or Dead Birds Now in 15 Counties
About the Author
Marina Somma is a freelance writer and animal trainer. She holds a B.A. in Psychology and a B.S. in Marine and Environmental Biology & Policy from Monmouth University. Marina has worked with a number of publications involving animal science, behavior and training, including animals.net, SmallDogsAcademy and more.
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