It Is Just Fine To Feed Birds Uncooked Rice

Eurasian tree sparrow. Photo: Michael Coghlan./Flickr/CC by 2.0

Can birds eat uncooked rice? Many people wonder whether they should feed birds cooked or uncooked rice or avoid throwing rice at their wedding for the sake of birds’ sensitive stomachs.

Here you will find all you need to know about this question.

Facts concerning the swelling of uncooked rice in birds’ stomachs

For rice to be cooked and swell, it must be boiled in water at 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit). A bird’s internal temperature fluctuates around 37 degrees Celsius (98 degrees Fahrenheit). Therefore, it is not nearly hot enough in birds’ stomachs to cause the cooking and swelling of rice. 

Birds have a high metabolism. The food they eat has to be digested quickly to convert it to the energy needed to satisfy the demands of daily activities. Therefore, rice does not stay in the bird’s stomachs long enough to swell up. 

Digestion time in birds depends on the type of food and the size of the birds. Small birds digest food faster than large birds. A sparrow-sized bird takes about 45 minutes to digest its food. 

Birds also have strong crop muscles and gizzards that grind up the food that they swallow. Small birds such as finches and sparrows have beaks adapted to break down rice grains into small pieces. Hence, rice enters their stomach as tiny pieces that are digested rather quickly.   

Birds eat rice regularly. Birds can be a pest to rice plantations and, if allowed, can eat rice all day. Doves, Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, finches, sparrows, and blue jays eat rice regularly. 

Related: The 14 Most Popular Foods for Backyard Birds (with Pictures and Facts)

How was the idea of rice being bad for birds originated? 

The earliest record of this myth was from 1985, when Representative Mae Schmidle of Connecticut proposed a bill that would ban the throwing of rice at weddings in her state. Schmidle claimed that she got the idea from the Audubon Society, one of the oldest societies dedicated to birds and habitat conservation.

However, interviews with local Audubon Society members revealed that they differ from Schmidle’s reasoning.

The rumor gained new traction after being repeated in Ann Landers’ advice column in 1996. The said column received an indignant answer by New York ornithologist Steven Sibley, and Landers retracted her statement and apologized for publishing misinformation.

Read about other unconventional bird food such as bread and kitchen scraps.

Can baby birds choke on uncooked rice?

Baby birds choking on uncooked rice are highly unlikely. Young birds in the nest eat what their parents bring to them. If the parents are small birds, rice grains are crushed into smaller pieces, mixed with other food items, and offered to the chicks in the nest. Rice should not cause any problems to baby birds.

Larger birds such as doves and pigeons eat rice as a whole grain, but their esophagus is much larger.

Breeding birds are expected to bring only a small amount of rice to the chicks anyway. Parent birds switch to a high-protein diet while raising the young in the nest. During this period, insects and small vertebrates become the majority of the food items brought to young birds in the nest.

During this period, the parents take very little rice or similar grains low in proteins. Baby birds would not be fed much rice while in the nest. 

Is uncooked brown rice better than white rice for birds?

Brown rice is healthier for humans, and thus it is more beneficial for birds. The table below indicates that brown rice has a higher nutrient content in almost every category.

Nutrient proximatesBrown riceWhite rice
energy82 calories68 calories
protein1.83 g1.42 g
total lipid (fat)0.65 g0.15 g
carbohydrates17.05 g14.84 g
fiber, total dietary1.1 g0.2 g
sugars, total0.16 g0.03 g
calcium2 milligrams (mg)5 mg
iron0.37 mg0.63 mg
sodium3 mg1 mg
fatty acids, total saturated0.17 g0.04 g
fatty acids, total trans0 g0 g
cholesterol0 mg0 mg
Information on nutritional value of brown and white rice was obtained from Healthline.

Is it better to soak or cook rice before feeding it to the birds?

Uncooked raw rice is good food for birds. Whether you soak it or cook it, it is a personal choice. Finches and sparrows with beaks adapted to crush grains would rather have raw grain rice. Larger birds do not have any problem handling row rice grains. 

Soaked or boiled rice can be offered to birds. Birds with generalist diets such as grackles, blue jays, blackbirds, and starling would readily take soaked or boiled rice. Other birds may hesitate to take it just due to its appearance, but they can get used to it.

Rice is safe for birds to consume in any form, as long as it is not fried in fat or seasoned – not even lightly salted.

Related: Bird Feeding 101: Tips for Attracting Backyard Birds

Birds like the bobolink shown here like to eat rice and are often considered a pest in rice fields. Photo: Tom Murray/Flickr/CC by 2.0

Which backyard birds like uncooked rice?

Finches and sparrows, including the ever-present cardinal, have strong beaks adapted to crush grains into smaller pieces and eat raw rice if offered to them.

Larger birds such as pigeons, blue jays, grackles, blackbirds, crows, and woodpeckers swallow whole uncooked rice grains. Quails, wild turkeys, and pheasants like and can eat a lot of rice.

Many people want to keep pigeons, grackles, and blackbirds away from bird feeders installed for other birds. In this case, having a dedicated area with a platform feeder where uncooked rice is served can be very helpful in keeping these birds from the more expensive delicacies intended for other songbirds.

Related: A Guide to Food & Feeder Preference

Are you still concerned about rice and birds at your wedding? 

Here’s a Solution: If throwing uncooked rice and your wedding still bothers you, and you want to err on the side of caution, you can always replace the rice with bird seeds. The tradition of throwing rice at weddings goes back to several pre-Christian cultures.

Rice symbolizes prosperity and fertility, and there is no reason why the seeds in a birdseed mixture cannot have a similar meaning.


4 thoughts on “It Is Just Fine To Feed Birds Uncooked Rice”

  1. “Hard, dry rice is harmful to birds. According to ecologists, it absorbs the moisture in their stomachs and kills them. Landers said in her reply that a Connecticut legislator had recently proposed a ban on rice throwing at weddings for precisely that reason.” FROM:

    1. Wolfie butler

      Is the only danger of a pigeon or other bird eating rice is dehydration. Though if you are providing them soak thrice that’s not a factor if you’re providing them water that is again not a factor . Pigeons for example are not gonna be harmed at all I had literally been feeding Is pounds of rice and other similar things To pigeons all the time And if you want to know how they’re doing they are Looking of much healthier their feathers have a lovely sheen . And these are just some ferrells around the city You know yeah I probably wouldn’t want to feed a cat pigeon a lot of rice As it’s not the most nutritious thing for them but it is perfectly safe Literally look up any phd holding ornithologist every time they will say it’s safe as long as they have water. Also this is only really a risk for pigeons specifically because they tend to require more water than most other birds

  2. Hello Maggie,

    I have never heard an instance where rice harmed birds.

    From the same article:

    “Emery found that the advice columnist’s answer was met with skepticism by bird experts everywhere, including Cornell ornithologist Steven C. Sibley, who wrote in a letter subsequently quoted by Landers:

    “There is absolutely no truth to the belief that rice [even instant] can kill birds. … 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.”

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