Hoaxes & Rumors

For the Birds: Three Common Misconceptions

For the Birds: Three Common Misconceptions

The following information tackles three common misconceptions related to birds. Whether they are old wives’ tales passed down generations or rumors run amok, this article will address a few of the commonly believed falsehoods featuring our feathered friends.

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Will a bird explode if it consumes rice thrown at a wedding?

A once common wedding tradition involves throwing rice at the bride and groom as they left the church after they were married. The custom is an ancient one, perhaps from Rome, perhaps Egypt, but with the intention of bestowing upon the newly wedded couple good luck in attaining either an abundance of crops or children or both. This ancient custom continued until the 1990s, when it was largely abandoned due to an urban legend which declared that the thrown rice was deadly for wild birds, killing them and in some cases causing them to explode. As experts have repeatedly assured the public in an attempt to dispel the legend, rice is totally safe for avian consumption. If rice did cause birds to explode, then rice fields would be littered with dead birds like exploded popcorn kernels in a hot skillet.

Does putting up bird feeders discourage birds from migrating for the winter?

It is a widespread belief that feeding wild birds will discourage them from migrating when natural supplies of food become scarce, perhaps causing them to miss their window of opportunity and freeze and/or starve to death. This is untrue, largely because the availability of food is not what determines when migratory birds decide to fly south for the winter. Birds begin to migrate when the days begin to shorten in the fall, because it is the length of the day and not the availability of food which birds use to determine when the time is right for migration. Furthermore, the Audubon Society informs us that according to studies done thus far, providing bird feeders for the convenience of the wild birds in your yard will not create any dependency which will prevent birds from migrating at the appropriate time.

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Will a baby bird be abandoned if it is touched by human hands?

This myth endures despite active attempts by many groups and agencies to dispel this commonly held belief. It is unfortunate too, because many baby birds have met untimely deaths after being taken in by some well-meaning individual after falling from a nest. Birds are not disturbed by the scent of humans; however, the scent of humans who disturb a wild bird’s nest too often can lead predators to it. It is wise to avoid contact with a bird’s nest when possible, but placing a helpless baby bird back into the nest it fell out of will not doom it to abandonment and starvation. As Laura Simon of the Humane Society of the United States commented in a related article on Scientific American’s website, “In general, wild animals bond with their young and do not quickly abandon them.” It is better to return the baby to its nest where it can be properly cared for by its mother than to try to raise the bird yourself.

Bottom Line

The aforementioned myths about wild birds are falsehoods, yet continue to be propagated and believed by many. The common theme throughout the answers to the aforementioned questions is that birds are more hardy than many people seem willing to believe. While it is proper to maintain your distance and refrain from touching wild birds and all wildlife, feeding wild birds (birdseed or rice) or returning a helpless baby bird to its nest will cause no harm.

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Hoaxes & Rumors

Randal A. Burd Jr. is a freelance writer, educator, and poet from Missouri. He is also a Kentucky Colonel and a genealogy enthusiast.

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