Many of us love to feed the birds in our gardens. But understanding what we can and cannot feed them is important. Unfortunately, there are several common myths surrounding what can and cannot be fed to garden birds.
Whether or not birds can eat uncooked rice is a topic shrouded by a lot of misinformation.
Is Uncooked Rice Safe for Birds to Eat?
Despite what many may have heard, eating raw rice is perfectly safe for birds.
Not all birds, of course, will choose to eat rice grains as part of their diets. But some birds will regularly consume rice as part of their natural diet, and several more will feed on it perfectly happily and safely if it is provided.
There has been a myth going around for many years that if birds consume uncooked rice, whether this is placed on feeders or thrown at weddings, that rice will expand in their stomachs and harm or even kill them. Some even believe that birds will explode!
This is not true. Ornithologists have observed many birds feeding off rice in the wild and on rice paddies. And this does them no harm at all.
There is no certainty about exactly where this myth came from. It was famously espoused by the columnist Ann Landers when she published a letter from a reader warning brides and grooms not to throw rice at weddings.
But can be traced back further—to at least 1985, when Representative Mae Schmidle of Connecticut proposed a bill to ban the throwing of rice at weddings in the state.
People are also sometimes concerned that baby birds will choke on uncooked rice. But this is not a valid concern either. Either the bird’s parents will feed rice that has been sufficiently broken down, or, most commonly, they will not feed rice at all.
Remember, baby birds will only eat what they are given by their parents. And parents for most bird species will feed their young on protein-rich insects and other protein-rich foods, rather than on carbs like rice and other grains.
Which Birds Naturally Eat Rice?
Several different birds eat rice from rice fields or paddies and wild rice in the natural environment.
Some common species that feed on rice in the US are the red-winged blackbird, grackles, and other American blackbirds—which can be considered nuisance species for rice farmers because they can congregate and feed on the rice before it is harvested.
Blue jays, doves, pigeons, and finches are some other birds that eat rice pretty regularly.
Even those birds that do not commonly feed on rice in the wild will be glad to eat some uncooked rice on a bird feeder, and it will not do them any harm. Larger birds tend to eat rice more frequently than smaller ones, due to the size of the grains.
But smaller ones will simply not eat and so placing rice is not considered to be something that will harm them.
What Happens When Birds Eat Rice?
When birds eat rice, the grains will pass through their crops and be processed within their digestive systems like any other food.
The major concern that rice will swell when it gets wet or heated is not an issue. In fact, bird seed swells more, and more quickly, than rice when exposed to moisture.
And a bird’s stomach gets nowhere near warm enough for the rice to be cooked. The rice will simply be broken down in the birds’ digestive system in much the same way as any other food that they consume.
Is Uncooked Rice Good for Birds?
So, we’ve ascertained that uncooked rice won’t expand in a bird’s stomach, and won’t harm them at all. But not harming is not the same thing as doing good. So is consuming rice a good thing for the birds that do it?
The truth is that rice can be beneficial in the diet of many birds. It is a source of energy in the form of carbohydrates. It also provides a range of beneficial nutrients.
Which Kind of Rice Can Birds Eat?
Larger birds can eat a range of different types of rice—from wild rice to brown rice, to white rice such as instant rice, basmati, red, or jasmine rice. The type of rice does not matter since all kinds are perfectly safe to leave out for those birds that will eat it to consume.
Dry rice is fine on its own, and you can also soak it if you wish when feeding rice to birds that eat it.
It does not matter whether you feed long-grained or short-grained. Larger birds can eat them all. Smaller birds may find it easier to eat a smaller or shorter-grained type. But many of the birds that eat rice will do so no matter which kind you feed.
In terms of nutrition, wild or brown rice will be better for the birds, just as they are better for us because these are more complex carbohydrates with higher levels of nutrients.
White rice is more of an ’empty carb’ and so if you do feed it, it is best fed in moderation, as an occasional treat rather than a staple feed for birds.
Can You Feed Birds Cooked Rice?
Though, of course, cooked rice is not a natural part of a bird’s diet, it will not do any harm if fed to birds occasionally.
If you have leftovers in your pan, it would be far better to leave these leftovers out for birds rather than sending them to landfills. Food waste is a big issue and so, where possible, you should try to reduce waste as much as possible and deal with food waste at home.
Mostly, you will do so by composting. But many leftovers, such as unseasoned rice, can be left out for the birds.
You will find that birds with generalist diets like pigeons, starlings, blackbirds, blue jays, and grackles will readily consume cooked rice. Other birds may be a little fussier and may not find the look of the cooked rice appealing at first.
But several other species will feed opportunistically on even cooked rice on occasion.
The key thing to remember, however, is that though cooked plain rice alone is not a problem, any salt or other seasonings may do some harm. So make sure that if you do place some leftovers outdoors, you only place out unseasoned rice for birds.
What About Other Things Made From Rice?
Rice on its own, as established above, can be fed to birds, both cooked and uncooked. But you might have other leftovers made from rice and be wondering if you can feed these things to the wild bird species in your garden.
Rice cereals, for example, rice Krispies or other similar breakfast treats. Can these be fed to birds? The answer is that it won’t do much harm if fed only occasionally.
Leaving out leftovers very occasionally won’t do any harm, and many birds will love them. But remember, these things are high in sugar, so just as we should not eat too much of them, so too, birds should only have them as an occasional sugar boost.
Rice flakes, rice cakes, and other rice-derived foods are also fine, and won’t do any harm. Just remember to check ingredients lists since although the rice itself is fine, other ingredients may not be.
Many birds will eat rice happily, and doing so is not only perfectly harmless but can also (especially with brown or wild rice types) be healthy for them too.
Though, you should remember that planting diverse plant species in your garden to provide natural food for a wide range of birds is always best, and whatever you place on a feeder should only ever be secondary to these things if you want to help wild backyard birds in your area.