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There is an old custom to throw rice at the wedding couple when they leave the church after the ceremony. But now I have heard from several people that you should not throw rice because birds will eat the rice and then explode when it expands in theirs stomachs.

I think this seems unlikely, especially that they will explode, but it may be harmful in other ways. I haven't been able to find any good sources that falsifies or supports this claim, but this question is similar: Does flour or rice make an ant's stomach explode?.

Will eating rice cause birds to explode?

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    Snopes (snopes.com/critters/crusader/birdrice.asp) has covered this myth but I'm not sure if they're answring it correctly... – George Chalhoub Jun 4 '15 at 12:17
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    Both birds and rice have existed together for millions of years. It seems to me that if rice made them explode, then there would be a significant evolutionary advantage for birds to not eat it. – RBarryYoung Jun 4 '15 at 16:53
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    @RBarryYoung I doubt modern rice has existed, particularly in the Americas, for millions of years. I mean, this is absurd (for the rice to expand, a sufficient amount of water would need to be present, water whose own volume would be lost), but not for that reason since it is a non-native domesticated crop. – Random832 Jun 4 '15 at 18:12
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    FWIW, I remember when virtually all weddings in the US switched from rice to birdseed (early 70s), and although I did hear the "exploding birds" story later, the line used at the time was that we shouldn't use rice anymore because it was sticking to the bride and grooms sweaty skin, making a mess for them. (I also heard a story about it getting in their ears, and not being able to get it out, but I only heard that one once) – RBarryYoung Jun 4 '15 at 19:43
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    In Italy sometimes priests forbid the rice throwing at weddings because of birds. That's not because they explode, but because they are attracted in large flocks (pigeons especially) and they tend to litter the outsides of the churches with guano, which damages the marble stones. – Lorenzo Donati Jun 6 '15 at 20:50
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The following has been disproven, based on this study:

James J. Krupa. A CLASSROOM EXERCISE FOR TESTING URBAN MYTH: Does Wedding Rice Cause Birds To Explode or Were Ann Landers, Martha Stewart & Bart Simpson Wrong? The American Biology Teacher 67(4):223-230. 2005 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1662/0002-7685(2005)067[0223:ACEFTU]2.0.CO;2

In 2005, James J. Krupa, an Associate Professor of Biology, asked 600 students from his biology classes at the University of Kentucky if throwing rice at weddings would be harmful. 45% percent of the students alleged it was unsafe mentioning exploding birds as the reason.

Krupa realizing this a teaching opportunity had his students test the claim as a lesson on the scientific method. The students carried out a series of experiments on:

  • the expansion of contrastive types of grains
  • the strength of avian digestive system
  • the snack preferences of several common bird species.

In results, issued in the journal cited at the beginning of this answer, the students found that the only grain that expanded enough to possibly pose a danger was instant rice not the kind usually thrown at weddings.

Nevertheless, the students prevailed on their teacher Krupa to feed instant rice to his own birds and monitor the outcome.

Confident that the birds won't explode, Krupa agreed and fed 60 doves and pigeons a diet of nothing but instant rice and water for a day, monitoring them for signs of distress or discomfort.

The results were out. There was no sign of burst gizzards, deaths, or even regurgitation.

Krupa said:

They just loved it, and now they're kind of addicted to it.

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    Spectacular answer. – msouth Jun 4 '15 at 22:52
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    Maybe this is a different question, but I'd heard the same about alka-seltzer. It seems that's also bunk, unsurprisingly. – DLeh Jun 8 '15 at 20:03
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    Imagine how experiment might have turned out if the claim was true... "Teacher violently kills birds in front of students in grisly science experiment. Parents call for resignation, threaten to sue over psychological harm caused to students." – Kip Jun 18 '15 at 12:08

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