Despite what many people say pigeons will not explode if they eat either rice or baking soda.
If a pigeon somehow ingests calcium carbide (found in fertilizers) or magnesium silicide then there is a realistic chance that they may explode, however the chances of them getting hold of either of these is extremely low.
Pigeons & Rice Explosions
It seems that the reasons baking soda and rice have gripped the popular imagination as indiscriminate killers of our feathered friends, are for their properties.
Supposedly, dry rice absorbs water at an amazing rate.
The theory is that pigeons greedily gulp down lots of grains of dry rice, which go straight down to their tiny stomachs.
They get thirsty and so take a nice long drink of water. What happens next is inevitable.
All that rice absorbs the water at an incredible rate and expands. Hey presto, exploding pigeons!
The facts are that rice absorbs water very slowly, even the easy/fast cook kind.
Rice can absorb water at a fast rate, but only at high temperatures.
Pigeons have a fantastically fast metabolic rate.
Food goes in one end and out the other at an amazing speed.
It’s like a straight-through exhaust.
Rice or anything else doesn’t stay in their bodies long enough to do anything.
That’s why they get such a bad name for their droppings.
The other reason is that pigeons scoop up grit and swallow it with their food.
Pigeons can’t chew as they don’t have teeth, so they swallow their food whole.
Along with their food, the grit ends up in their gizzards and acts as grindstones that pulverize the food into even tinier pieces so it can be absorbed.
As you can observe, in any setting around pigeons, the waste is expelled promptly and frequently.
In fact, many pigeon keepers mix rice with their pigeon’s food and no one has ever said they have seen any adverse effects from doing so.
The claims that rice will make pigeons explode have been clinically tested by scientists and the results have come up negative.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Britain has even gone so far as to issue a statement that this claim has no basis in fact.
There isn’t any historical evidence either, which you would expect, seeing as both pigeons and rice have been around since time out of mind.
Pigeons & Baking Soda Explosions
The case of baking soda is even stranger.
The implication of baking soda or bicarbonate of soda as an exploding agent is because baking soda also expands rapidly.
Whereas rice just needs the application of water, baking soda requires heat.
It is a normal everyday household and commercial product used in baking. When heated it expands and produces gas.
The rapid gas expansion is supposed to cause an explosion within the pigeon’s tiny gut.
Normally, it isn’t seen lying around in large quantities in either city streets or the countryside.
Even if a pigeon did manage to find some, for it to have any explosive or expanding effect it has to be heated to around 187°F (80°C) which is very unlikely to happen in a pigeons stomach.
Where Did The Rice & Baking Soda Myths Come From?
The rice myth was started by an American journalist back in the 1980s and despite being debunked by many scientists in the ornithology field, it still persists today.
It is likely that church authorities simply adopted the story because they were fed up of cleaning up heaps of rice after weddings and used the myth to make us switch to confetti.
Nobody is quite sure where the baking soda idea came from. It may have started as a DIY pigeon deterrent solution. Someone probably had a pigeon problem and wanted to get rid of them.
As it is illegal to poison pigeons, another, legal way was required. What can be more innocuous and innocent than baking powder?
Using the same principle as the expanding rice idea, they probably thought a pigeon’s temperature would produce gas and set off an explosion.
Thankfully this idea was doomed to failure.
What Might Make a Pigeon Explode?
Calcium carbide is one chemical product that may well cause a pigeon to explode.
This is used in industry to make carbide lamps and acetylene gas, apart from other chemical products.
The other is magnesium silicide, made from a mixture of magnesium and silicon, which can be toxic.
Again, it is used in industry to make certain alloys.
How a pigeon would get access to them or why they would ingest them is anybody’s guess.