One of the most popular and persistent bird feeding myths is that dried rice thrown at weddings will enlarge in a bird's stomach and make the bird explode. While untrue, this myth has led to wedding birdseed being a favored item to toss at the departing bride and groom, but is it any better to throw birdseed at weddings?
Rice Won't Make Birds Explode
Many birds eat dried grains as part of their regular, healthy diets. Wheat, milo, millet, barley, and yes, rice are all great sources of carbohydrates that give birds energy to grow, raise their young, migrate, and survive cold winters and poor weather. Once the bird eats the grain, it is rapidly broken down and digested. Rice never has the opportunity to swell with water absorption to a point where it endangers the bird.
Many bird species regularly feast on rice, much to the annoyance of rice farmers. Bobolinks, geese, and ducks all eat great quantities of rice, and never have there been any substantiated reports or evidence of "exploding" birds.
This does not mean, however, that rice is perfect for throwing at weddings. The symbolism of rice to grant the happy couple fertility and prosperity is well meaning, but not always practical. Tubular grains of hard, dried rice can create a hazardous walking surface for the happy couple and their guests, particularly if the rice is tossed at the couple's exit, which may be after dark when visibility is low and footing may be more uncertain. The risk of injury from slips and falls on wedding rice, and the potential lawsuits that may result from such incidents, is why rice is no longer recommended for wedding tosses. Many wedding venues have even banned rice to avoid any potential problems.
Using Wedding Birdseed
Instead of dried rice, many couples opt to toss wedding birdseed at the end of their celebration. Birds are more accustomed to birdseed, particularly in urban and suburban areas, and they will more readily help clean it up after the wedding.
To use birdseed for a wedding toss:
- Contact your wedding venue to ask about using birdseed. Some venues prohibit any type of tossed items for the couple's departure or require the seed to be cleaned up after the event, with or without the birds.
- Choose either millet or mixed birdseed and purchase several pounds of seed. Opt for higher quality seed that will not have as much dust or debris mixed in with the seed for a clean wedding toss.
- Sift the seed carefully through a sieve to remove any lingering dust, twigs, hulls, or other unsightly debris. Avoid getting the seed wet to remove dust, as this could encourage germination or mold before the wedding.
- Tie 2-3 tablespoons of seed into small mesh or tulle bags or put it into individual cartons, sleeves, or tins for guests to use during the wedding toss. Alternatively, put larger quantities of seed into decorative jars or pails for several guests to use at once.
- If possible, arrange the couple's departure on a flat, even surface, preferably gravel or grass where spilled seed will not create treacherous footing and where birds will happily forage after the event.
While wedding birdseed seems to be a more environmental, bird-friendly option for tossing, it is not necessarily the best option for every wedding venue or every couple. On steps or smooth concrete surfaces, birdseed can still be dangerous, particularly for formal wedding shoes. Formal gardens may not permit birdseed to be tossed because the seed can germinate and become weeds in an otherwise cultivated landscape. In large urban areas with aggressive rock pigeon populations, tossing birdseed may even bring flocks of hungry birds down to assault the happy couple as they leave.
To avoid the problems caused by both rice and birdseed, many couples are option for different wedding toss items, including:
- Rose petals
- Candy sprinkles
- Dried flower buds
- Biodegradable confetti
- Popped popcorn
- Miniature pom poms
- Sequins or glitter
Ringing bells, blowing bubbles, waving flags, or lighting sparklers as the couple exits are other attractive options that won't cause problems for the birds, digestive or otherwise. Tossing wedding birdseed may seem like a great solution to a persistent myth, but like any bird feeding, it is best done with care and consideration for the birds, the environment, and the people in the area.