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Does Wedding Rice Really Make Birds Explode?

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Throwing rice at a newly married couple has been a tradition for thousands of years, possibly going back as far as the ancient Assyrians and Egyptians. The idea is to give the newlyweds good luck, fertility, and abundance using this symbol of a good crop. More recently, wedding meddlers have cautioned against throwing rice because it can kill birds who swoop down and eat it after the human revelers have left for the reception. The rice grains, absorbent as they are, supposedly start sucking up water in the birds’ moist innards and cause them to violently burst.

It's not clear where this idea came from, but it hit the peak of its popularity in the late 1980s when the Connecticut state legislature discussed a bill outlawing the tossing of rice at weddings and advice columnist Ann Landers printed a letter about the practice.

Wherever it came from, you can quit worrying about the birds.

The reality is that rice poses no harm to them. Wild birds eat uncooked rice all the time with no ill effects. Many types of waterfowl, shorebirds, and migratory birds depend on flooded rice fields to maintain fat in the winter. A bird called the bobolink eats enough rice that it's considered a pest by farmers and has earned the nickname "ricebird."

Besides the numerous birds that regularly eat rice and don’t explode, another thing to consider is the fact that dried rice grains are pretty slow to absorb liquid unless it's boiling, which birds’ stomachs certainly aren’t. Their internal temperatures generally range from 100.4 to 107.6 degrees F, well below the boiling point of any liquid that would be inside them. Even if birds did have boiling guts, any uncooked rice they consumed would be broken down well enough by their crops and gizzards that the pieces shouldn’t cause any problems as they expand.

Mythbusters or Gutbusters?

Now, these explanations of why rice is not bad for birds rely on two things: what we know about birds, and what we know about rice. We understand both pretty well, but wouldn’t a good experiment go a long way toward putting the myth to rest?

That’s what James Krupa’s students at the University of Kentucky thought. During the spring 2002 semester, Krupa and his 600 biology students decided to test the exploding bird myth with a series of experiments. They looked at the expansion of different types of grains, considered the strength of birds’ digestive organs, and tested an all-rice diet out on the professor’s pet birds.

The first notable thing they found was that white rice increased in volume by 33% when soaked, while bird seed expanded by 40%. If rice was going to make birds explode, then we’d already doomed them anyway with birdfeeders full of seed. The most significant expansion was seen in white and brown instant rice, which expanded 2.4 to 2.7 times its original volume when soaked. Of course, instant rice is usually more expensive than the regular stuff and comes in smaller quantities, so it's not very likely that anyone is throwing around opened packages of Uncle Ben’s at weddings.

But what if they did? To see if instant rice could burst a bird from the inside out, Krupa and his students built model bird crops from very thin plastic and from wet paper bags, and filled them with various grains and water. None of the plastic crops exploded, but a paper bag filled with instant white rice expanded and ruptured in about 15 minutes.

Not satisfied with their bird-gut surrogates, the students begged Krupa to test the rice out on real birds. Krupa felt confident enough that no birds would be harmed based on their previous results, so he agreed to turn the flocks of doves and pigeons he kept at home into guinea pigs. He fed 60 of his birds a diet of nothing but instant rice and water for a day, and monitored them for signs of distress or discomfort. Krupa reported that no birds choked, exploded, or otherwise were injured or died. None of them threw up or even showed any sign that they were in pain; they went through their all-rice day with no problems.

Birds, it seems, have no problem with rice, but this doesn’t mean that it's perfectly safe to throw at weddings. Hard, tubular grains spread out on the sidewalk in front of a church can still create a slipping hazard for another animal: wedding guests. The fear of slip and fall injuries and the lawsuits that go with them have led some wedding venues to ban rice—not for the birds, but to keep themselves out of court.

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Matt Tillett, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
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Animals
‘Harvey the Hurricane Hawk’ Returns to the Wild
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Matt Tillett, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Among the devastating news that came out of Houston during the last weekend in August, there was one video that warmed the hearts of those following Hurricane Harvey. A Cooper's hawk startled Texas cab driver William Bruso after climbing into his car and hunkering down before the storm. Now, after receiving care from both Bruso and local wildlife experts, the Associated Press reports that "Harvey the Hurricane Hawk" has been released.

As the video below shows, Bruso assumed that the bird sensed the severe weather approaching and sought refuge in his cab. "He seems to be scared," he said. "He doesn’t know what’s going on. Hurricane Harvey is getting ready to barrel down through over here, and he doesn’t want to leave."

Veterinarians at the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition Wildlife Center later learned that the hawk—which is actually female—had suffered head trauma, likely by flying into something, and this had left her unable to fly. After she refused to leave his side, Bruso took her into his home, fed her chicken hearts, and let her spend the night. Liz Compton of the rehabilitation center came to pick her up the next day.

Following a week and a half of medical care, Harvey the hawk has returned to the skies. According to TWRC, the animal likely wouldn't have survived the storm if she hadn't been given shelter. Texans hoping to catch a glimpse of the viral celebrity may be able to spot her above Oak Point Park in Plano, Texas, where she was released on September 13.

[h/t AP]

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Art
Crocheted Costumes That Make Pigeons Look Like Extinct Species
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When it comes to envisioning what extinct species looked like, we don’t have much to go on outside of a select few museums with skeletons and reconstructed models. But now, one artist is giving us a whole new way to look at long-gone birds like the dodo or passenger pigeon. 

California-based artist Laurel Roth Hope is a former park ranger and conservationist who creates detailed costumes that make ordinary urban pigeons look like birds that no longer soar through the skies, Boing Boing reports. Her Biodiversity Reclamation Suits for Urban Pigeons create doll-like representations of birds most have never seen. (The pigeons in the photos are hand-carved mannequins, though, so don't worry about the poor bird that has to don a dead relative's outfit.)

A close-up of the Carolina parakeet costume shows crocheted details.

“Inspired by the traditional use of fiber-craft to provide safety and comfort,” she writes in her description of the project, “I have been crocheting small suits for urban pigeons that disguise them as extinct birds, thereby (visually) re-creating biodiversity and placing a soothing ‘cozy’ on environmental fears.”

The costumes depict birds that went extinct both recently and centuries ago. The last dodos famously disappeared in the 17th century. The last passenger pigeon, a bird named Martha that lived at the Cincinnati Zoo, died in 1914. (Hope’s work was featured in the Smithsonian’s 2014 exhibition The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art, held during the centennial of Martha’s death.) The heath hen, a grassland species that has been the subject of recent de-extinction efforts in Martha’s Vineyard, went extinct in 1932.

A a green and yellow crocheted costume makes a pigeon look like a Carolina parakeet.
Carolina Parakeet, 2009

Two birds in crocheted costumes depicting heath hens appear to interact on top of a rock.
Heath Hens, 2014

A blue and orange crocheted costume makes an urban pigeon look like a passenger pigeon.
Passenger Pigeon II, 2014

Three taxidermied birds are covered in crocheted costumes making them look like extinct species.
From left: Bachman's Warbler, Cuban Red Macaw, Mauritius Blue Pigeon, 2015

Two taxidermied birds covered by colorful crocheted fabric are placed beak-to-beak.
Paradise Parrot and Guadalupe Caracara, 2013

Unfortunately, as she writes on her site, the patterns for the bird suits aren't available to share, so you can't make your own stuffed dodo.

[h/t Boing Boing]

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