Can Pigeons Eat Rice?


pigeons eating

Yes, pigeons can eat rice...and they won’t explode afterwards either!

For some reason people have got hold of the idea that feeding pigeons’ rice is deadly, that they will die in a spectacularly explosive way.

This is an urban myth which became common back in the 1980s.

A bird-loving young woman wrote to an American columnist of her worries about her wedding guests throwing rice at the ceremony. She believed that the pigeons that swooped down and ate the rice would die.

Unfortunately, the columnist shared her worries and the whole thing snowballed out of proportion.

Even though prominent ornithologists got in on the act and debunked the idea, the belief still exists.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds categorically states that no harm will come to pigeons that eat rice. 

The Tradition Of Throwing Rice

The tradition of throwing rice at weddings or other celebrations seems to come from Roman times.

rice being thrown at a wedding

Originally they threw wheat to symbolise a fruitful marriage, but somewhere down the line things changed and they switched to rice.

Maybe the fashion changed or rice was cheaper?

Anyway, we know a lot about the Romans, but no historian has mentioned anything about exploding or dying pigeons when they switched to rice.

It’s one of those quirky facts that, if true, would soon become common knowledge.

So, there doesn’t seem to be any historical precedent for the myth.

The Exploding Pigeons Myth Debunked

The idea is that rice absorbs water and so expands, causing the pigeon’s stomach to explode when the bird then drinks water.

pigeons sitting

The fact is that rice absorbs water very slowly, unless it is cooked at high temperatures, which won’t be found in a pigeon’s stomach.

Pigeons swallow their food whole, as they can’t chew.

The food is channelled into a special pouch in its stomach where it is ground up with the aid of grit picked up off the floor.

Rice or anything else doesn’t have time to expand.

Any food is quickly broken down for its nutrients and the waste expelled.

Experiments To Test The Pigeon & Rice Myth

In 2002, intrigued by the persistence of this urban myth, some researchers at the University of Kentucky decided to test it.

At first they tried it with store bought instant rice, which expands more rapidly than the raw variety. 

According to the myth, this is the worst kind of rice that you can feed pigeons.

They made mock up replicas of pigeon stomachs out of paper and filled them with rice.

They added water and observed. Nothing happened. They repeated the experiment with uncooked rice.

Again, nothing happened.

pigeons flying

Finally, they fed live pigeons with the rice and watched for adverse effects.

None of the subject pigeons used showed any harmful effects whatsoever.

Did you know: Rice farmers complain that pigeons are a nuisance and detrimental to their business because they keep stealing their grain.

What Pigeons Do Eat

Pigeons eat grains and seeds in their natural habitats, depending on where that may be including:

  • Wheat
  • Millet
  • Corn
  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Sorghum
  • Lentils
  • Rice
  • Beans
  • Sesame
  • Peas
  • Sunflower seeds, etc.

The feral or urban dwelling pigeons have access to the products of our take-away food culture and all its waste.

pigeons eating

Plus, there are all those bird feeders that people kindly put out.

What Pigeons Shouldn’t Eat

If you are a kind-hearted soul and like to help out the birdies, be careful of what you feed them.

Some types of food are definitely not for pigeon consumption and will harm them, these include:

  • Any kind of fried food is out.
  • Foods that have artificial flavouring also.
  • Anything containing sugar and that includes liquids.
  • Chocolate or sweets also.
  • Onions, garlic, or leeks.
  • Coffee or any caffeinated products can harm them too.

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