Bird Myths: Gum on the ground kills birds

Even though the Internet is an amazing resource with answers to nearly any question you could ever ask, it’s still a medium that is susceptible to the spread of misinformation, especially on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The image to the right of a bird next to its deceased mate has been making the rounds on Facebook with an encouragement for people to share it. It states that chewing gum on the ground is appealing to birds because it looks like bread, but ingesting it causes the birds to die.

Let’s tackle this quickly spreading image.

First, any birder could tell you the birds in the image are barn swallows—which are insectivores—so they wouldn’t try to eat gum in the first place. Second, the image is actually from a series of touching pictures that spread around the Internet a couple of years ago displaying a swallow grieving over its mate.

As for the claim on the image, while it’s hard to outright dismiss anything as impossible, experts have suggested chewing gum itself would not kill a bird, according to

Still, people never definitively say a small bird eating gum will not affect it. Nevertheless, it’s unlikely birds will try to eat gum because they can easily detect when things are not edible. After a peck, they probably wouldn’t try to eat any more of it.

While birds are rarely killed by gum, it’s always important to throw away gum (and any other litter) because trash has negative effects on the environment, which ultimately affects birds.

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  1. Don Chase
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    As some one who has raised birds for more than 40 years, I can verify that birds will not eat anything like gum or anything else that is not digestible. Personally considering the materials used to make gum, I don’t believe that most birds would even be able to eat gum. There are things that they can eat that is not good for them and can clog up their system. One of them is anything with butter or heavy cooking oil in it.

  2. Posted July 3, 2012 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    Great article… thanks for helping to debunk another social media myth. That is a pretty moving picture – I can see why it’s going around so quickly. But birds eating gum? Umm…. no.

  3. Marsha Smith
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    and then there’s this.

  4. Милена
    Posted January 13, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    I partly agree with this article. Yes, the birds on the picture provided may be insectivores but there still are birds out there that eat bread (sparrows, pigeons, herring-gull, ducks). When those try a gum to see if they are eatable and the gum sticks to their beaks it can be deadly to them. They have no fingers to get it off. Of course they could rub their beaks in the ground or in whatever else nearer them and get rid partly or fully of the gum and risk to severely harm themselves in the attempts to clean up. It is only if the bird manages to get rid of the gum, but I highly doubt it. It is more likely that the gum sticks on the inside and not on the outside of the beak, which sticks together and prevents the bird from further eating and drinking. I guess we all know what happens to gums when the weather is hot. They become irritably sticky. Have you ever tried to clean a gum from your sole? Did it completely work? Or maybe you have a dog and know what happens when it steps on a gum. You just have to cut the fur in order to get rid of the gum. Imagine what happens if this spreads on a bird’s plumage.
    So yes, please throw gum not on the ground but where it wouldn’t stick to somebody’s shoes, dog’s paws or bird’s beaks.

  5. Hugh J
    Posted March 3, 2013 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    8 months on and this is still circulating on Facebook. When will people learn that re-posting this type of disinformation just makes them look stupid? Certainly people who dispose of their used gum irresponsibly should be condemned.

  6. Posted June 22, 2013 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    this pic is still circulating on the Facebook.

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