A Scientist Tested Whether Birds Explode When You Feed Them Rice

An urban legend has it that they explode if you let them eat rice.

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

James is a published author with four pop-history and science books to his name. He specializes in history, strange science, and anything out of the ordinary.

Senior Staff Writer

A large pigeon.

Place your bets. Image credit: schankz/

There is a strange urban legend which says that you can't throw rice at weddings because birds will eat it, and then the rice will expand in their stomachs and cause them to explode.

The legend dates back to at least the 1980s, when it briefly became all the rage. In 1985, a legislator in Connecticut introduced ''An Act Prohibiting The Use Of Uncooked Rice At Nuptial Affairs'' in an attempt to ''prevent injury and death of birds as a result of ingesting raw rice thrown at weddings". 


Representative Mae S. Schmidle repeated the urban legend in support of the bill, which did not pass.

''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, adding, "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 idea was dismissed quite abruptly at the time by orthinologists.

''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 at the time. "Of course, there can always be a first time, but I would have to see some evidence before I would promote the idea.''


When the myth was repeated by advice columnist Ann Landers, Steven C. Sibley of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology wrote to correct the misconception.

"Rice is no threat to birds. It must be boiled before it will expand. Furthermore, all the food that birds swallow is ground up by powerful muscles and grit in their gizzards," he wrote, in a letter which was then published. "Many birds love rice, as any frustrated rice farmer will tell you."

If the words of ornithologists are like garbage to you (perhaps after a bad breakup) you don't have to take their word for it. In 2002, a lecturer in biology at the University of Kentucky asked his 600 students whether they believed that rice expanded in the stomachs of birds, before exploding. About half did, with one student claiming they had seen it personally.

"The student said his grandmother routinely feeds rice to chickens to kill them. The student claimed to have personally watched chickens explode 'into pieces' after eating rice and drinking water," author James J. Krupa wrote in the journal The American Biology Teacher, adding that the student's description "was extremely graphic and gruesome, and the student was adamant that the story was true".


Briefly noting that "in reality birds do not have stomachs" and that presumably people are referring to pouches in bird throats known as crops, he made his students conduct experiments to see if the urban legend was true. 

In the first part of the experiment, the students tested how much different seeds and grains of rice expand when water is added. They found that jasmine rice expanded about 33 percent, while seeds that birds typically eat expand around 40 percent on average (with field corn expanding about 53 percent, and red wheat about 65 percent).

Testing other varieties of rice, they found that none expand more than bird seed, though they noted that instant rice expands more, with instant brown rice expanding 170 percent. 

However, the class did not just leave it there. One student wanted to determine whether the birds would eat instant rice in enough quantities for their crops to explode. Having established safety in a number of other experiments, the teacher allowed instant rice to be fed to his pigeons as the only source of food for 12 hours, with access to 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. "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."

Despite the mystery of the grandma killing chickens with rice, the myth is pretty definitively busted.


  • tag
  • birds,

  • rice,

  • seeds,

  • pigeons,

  • eating,

  • feed