Wedding Rice Kills Birds

Rice thrown at weddings kills birds.

Don’t Believe That!

The custom of throwing rice at the newly-wedded couple is one of the oldest wedding traditions. It appears to have originated from the ancient pagan tradition of throwing oats or dried corn to symbolically shower the husband and wife with good fortune.

Presumably because rice is easier to obtain than dried corn, it eventually became the preferred matrimonial projectile. That was, until rumors began that the uncooked rice was dangerous to birds. Birds that show up after the ceremony for a snack are said to be in danger of literally exploding when the rice expands in their stomachs.

The main danger of throwing rice is that a guest may slip on a rice-covered floor or sidewalk. But, birds needn’t worry. Although this myth has been repeated by everyone from Ann Landers to the Connecticut state legislature (who tried to pass a law banning rice at weddings), there is no evidence that rice poses a health hazard to birds. Our feathered friends commonly eat dried grains from fields and gardens with no ill effects. Waterfowl and other birds utilize rice fields to sustain themselves through the winter. One type of bird (the bobolink) eats so much rice that it is nicknamed the “ricebird.”

Rice does absorb water, but very slowly at lower temperatures (below the boiling point of water). In tests, rice expanded 33% in water but bird seed expanded 40%! A 2005 study of 60 birds that were fed only instant rice and water resulted in no deaths, or even ill effects, among the test subjects.


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