Claim: Wedding guests should refrain from throwing rice at newly-wedded couples because the rice kills birds who eat it.
Origins: We're cautioned not to throw rice at the bride and groom, because the grain will prove harmful to the birds who swoop down to eat it. The rice expands in those little birdy stomachs, causing our avian companions to explode, we're warned. This rumor was so pervasive, that in 1985 a Connecticut state legislator introduced a bill (amusingly titled "An Act Prohibiting the Use of Uncooked Rice at Nuptial Affairs") to outlaw the practice:
"An Act Prohibiting The Use Of Uncooked Rice At Nuptial Affairs" would provide that "no person shall throw, fling, cast or hurl any uncooked rice at any time during the celebration of any marriage," according to
The "statement of purpose" of the Newtown Republican's bill says it would "prevent injury and death of birds as a result of ingesting raw rice thrown at weddings."
"The rice that's left, that's not in your hair or on your suit or in your bouquet, you leave for the birds," she explained.
"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. 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," Mrs. Schmidle said.
Her bill would impose a $50 fine for anyone caught throwing rice at a wedding.
"It sounds crazy," said Roland C. Clement of Norwalk, a past president of the Connecticut Audubon Society and currently president of the Connecticut Ornithological Association.
"I have 50 years of professional experience as a practicing ornithologist and I've never heard of such a thing before. Of course, there can always be a first time, but I would have to see some evidence before I would promote the idea."
Asked if he thought it was possible that birds would be killed by raw rice, Clement said: "I personally doubt it."
Karl Wagener, a former top official with the Connecticut Audubon Society who now heads the state Council on Environmental Quality, also questioned the need for Mrs. Schmidle's bill. "I've never heard of anything like that ever, and I read an awful lot of bird-oriented literature," he said.
David Emerson, assistant director of the Connecticut Audubon Society, said the topic had never come up in any discussions he knew of within the society.
"This silly myth pops up periodically, and it is absolutely unfounded," responded rice expert
Uncooked, milled rice is no more harmful to birds than rice in the field, Cheesman said. The Curator of Ornithology at the University of California at Berkeley agrees.
"It's a myth. There is no reason why birds, including small songbirds, can't eat rice," said Ned Johnson, a professor of biology at Berkeley who lectures frequently on the food and feeding of birds.
There is absolutely no truth to the belief that rice (even instant) can kill birds. This rumor received publicity because of a bill introduced into the Connecticut legislature in 1985 by Mae Schmidle.
This wild story resulted in frightening thousands of brides into putting birdseed in little tulle and chiffon bags so the guests wouldn't throw rice and "kill the birds."
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. Many birds love rice, as any frustrated rice farmer will tell you.
I hope you will print this information in your column and put an end to this myth. In the meantime, keep throwing rice, folks. Tradition will be served and the birds will eat well and be healthy.
Steven C. Sibley,
Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology,
Dear Steven Sibley: Your letter proves once again that if a story is repeated often enough, people will believe it, even though it is false and defies logic.
We checked with an authority in the Bird House at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, and she verified your statement. Shame on me for going along with that crock. I feel like a birdbrain.
Still, nothing satifies curious minds like empirical evidence, so in 2002 University of Kentucky biology professor James Krupa put the matter to test with his students, conducting experiments that he eventually published in the April 2005 edition of the journal American Biology Teacher under the title "A CLASSROOM EXERCISE FOR TESTING URBAN MYTH: Does Wedding Rice Cause Birds to Explode or Were Ann Landers, Martha Stewart & Bart Simpson Wrong?"
One factor Krupa and his students measured just how much rice actually expands when soaked in water. They found that soaked white rice expanded in volume by 33%, which might sound like a lot, but not so much when compared to ordinary bird seed, which they found increased in size by an even greater percentage (40%). If a 33% increase in volume of ingested rice could cause birds to explode, then bird seed should be turning even more of them into avian bombs.
Krupa's group found that instant rice, both the brown and white varieties, expanded considerably more (2.4 to 2.7 times its original volume) than plain white rice when soaked. Instant rice isn't typically the sort that people throw at weddings (because it's costlier and more difficult to buy in bulk), but nonetheless the experimenters tested the possibilities by constructing models of bird crops from thin plastic and wet paper and filling them with instant rice. Although a paper bag filled with soaked instant white rice ruptured in about
Krupa's students prevailed upon him to also test the exploding rice theory on real birds, an entreaty he finally acquiesced to because he felt their previous experiments had sufficiently demonstrated that no birds would come to harm through the process. He agreed to try some rice-feeding tests with flocks of doves and pigeons he kept at home,
Many churches and reception halls still have rules prohibiting the throwing of rice, or require that thrown rice be enclosed in those "little tulle and chiffon bags." This practice isn't about protecting birds, however: these rules work to keep the properties clean so that subsequent happy couples don't get their
Don't do it for the birds, do it for the inlaws.
Barbara "slip covered" Mikkelson
Sightings: In The Simpsons episode of
Last updated: 16 March 2015
Everhart, Judd. "Bill Would Ban Rice at Weddings." Associated Press. 12 February 1985. Krupa, James J. "A Classroom Eexercise for Testing Urban Myth." American Biology Teacher. April 2005 (Vol. 67 Issue 4), p. 223. Landers, Ann. "Child Abuse Has a Verbal Version." Chicago Tribune. 17 August 1988. The Houston Chronicle.   "Ann Landers Told Rice Myth Is for the Birds." 5 October 1996   (Business; p. 1).     The Big Book of Urban Legends.     New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 109).