Can Birds Eat Rice?

There is a belief that birds explode if they eat too much rice, as it "swells" inside their stomach. How much of this myth is true?
Can Birds Eat Rice?

Last update: 10 September, 2021

For decades, a myth has spread in various cultures and societies that if pigeons and birds eat uncooked rice, they end up exploding because it “swells” in their guts. This belief has reached such a point that, today, in certain places people now prefer to throw seeds at weddings instead of rice in order to protect the birds. Stay with us as we answer the question can birds eat rice?

Like everything in life, the only answer to this question has to come from the world of science. We’ll be either disproving or confirming this belief with scientific evidence. Intrigued? Read on!

Bird diet

Before exploring the dietary choices of these animals, it’s necessary to establish a certain foundation about their biological makeup. Birds are a class of warm-blooded vertebrate animals that only stand on their hind limbs, and which hang wings, which may or may not be useful for flight.

As the American Museum of Natural History indicates, there are approximately 18,000 species of birds in the world, a figure that represents an unbeatable biodiversity. Therefore, it’s to be expected that not all birds eat the same. Let’s see some examples of the diets of these animals:

  • Birds of prey: Raptors are strict carnivores. Depending on the species, they feed on larger or smaller prey, but, in general, they prey on mammals, reptiles, small birds, amphibians, fish and invertebrates sporadically. Its beak is curved and sharp to cut bones and meat.
  • Piscivorous birds: This group includes waders, which find their perfect niche in mudflats, estuaries, and bays. They have elongated and thin (or shovel-shaped) beaks that make it easy to put them in the sand and hunt fish underwater.
  • Insectivorous birds: These are usually small to medium in size and sometimes have something like “whiskers” at the base of their beaks, the purpose of which is to detect the vibrations emitted by invertebrates when flying.
  • Granivorous birds: These animals have short, conical beaks with serrated edges that allow them to break up the seeds of the vegetables they feed on.

Despite this categorization, it should be noted that there are birds with mixed diets (omnivorous), while others are in charge of “recycling” dead organic matter (scavengers) and still others prefer fruits (frugivorous). As you can imagine, the debate in the field that concerns us only applies to granivorous and omnivorous birds, as a raptor will never have an interest in eating rice.

A bird eating seeds.

Can birds eat rice?

The question above answers itself a bit by applying logic and what we’ve mentioned above. If a bird has a beak and stomach adapted to crushing and digesting seeds, why shouldn’t it be able to consume rice? Living proof that many birds are capable of metabolizing it is Dolichonyx oryzivorus, a small black and white passerine endemic to America.

This species feeds on insects in 57.1% of its diet, but the remaining organic matter corresponds to seeds, including rice. Although it prefers green grains to ripe ones, it can cause damage to rice fields due to its clear predilection for this seed. If this example hasn’t completely convinced you let’s have a look at some more.

Pigeons, rice and weddings

To answer the question of whether birds can eat rice, the scientific professor James Krupa carried out a study in class with his students that finally saw the light in the BioOne portal in 2005. The approach is most interesting, since not only was rice offered to various birds, but 7 different scenarios were provided until the logical conclusion was reached.

Let’s look at some of the most important steps in the investigation and what questions they answer:

  1. Does dry rice get very large when exposed to water? This research showed that white rice increases in size by 33% in this scenario, but the mixture of seeds that birds eat normally swells even more when soaked (40%).
  2. Do birds prefer rice or their natural food ? The analyzed birds preferred to eat other types of seeds than white rice, but if there was no other option they wouldn’t turn their beaks up at it!
  3. Does a bird’s stomach explode if they eat rice? During a 12-hour period, the 60 birds in the experiment consumed the equivalent of 1500 milliliters of white rice. Afterwards, they vigorously drank liquids for 20 minutes. No birds exploded, drowned, vomited, or showed any side effects!

So, our suspicions are confirmed. It doesn’t make sense that any bird should have an intolerance like this to rice, as this would be a clear evolutionary disadvantage that doesn’t tie up with the granivorous diet of many species. One thing is that it doesn’t particularly attract them, but another is whether it can actually kill them!

Some birds bathe in a fountain.

Rice and feeders

In conclusion, we want to emphasize that birds can eat rice, but this doesn’t mean that it’s suitable for all species. The fact that they tolerate it doesn’t mean that it’s an adequate dietary base in all cases, since many European species aren’t used to consuming this grain. Whether or not it’s harmful to them in the long term is still unknown however.

For this reason, when an outdoor feeder is installed we always recommend that you’re well informed as regards which species are endemic in your area and what their natural dietary choices are. Remember that no bird should be exposed to something that it wouldn’t eat in its normal environment.

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