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Gum Kills Birds?

Claim:   Eating gum thrown on the ground causes birds to die.

MIXTURE

Example:   [Collected via Facebook, June 2012]

A photo is circulating on Facebook that shows two birds, one presumably lying dead on the ground. It claims that chewing gum on the ground looks like bread to birds and if they eat it they die a slow death. Wonder if this is true.

 

Origins:   First off, the picture displayed above has nothing to do with a bird's dying from eating a piece of discarded gum. It's one of a sequence of much-circulated photographs from 2009 which was said to show a swallow who refused to abandon his mate after she was hit by a car and subsequently died.

As for the issue of whether ingesting discarded gum poses a general danger to birds, Pennsylvania television station WHP's "Lie or Legit" feature tackled this question back in 2009 and cited two wildlife experts who allowed that such a death might be a possibility (if nothing more than a remote one):
This week, a CBS 21 News viewer has a question about a sticky situation.

Jerry from Harrisburg writes in an email to CBS 21 News Anchor Mike Parker:

"My wife says that if you throw gum on the street, a bird will eat the gum and die from it. Will a bird attempt to eat the gum?"

For the answer, we took Jerry's question to several Central Pennsylvania wildlife experts, who deal with different species of birds.

In one response, ZooAmerica (Hershey, PA) Director Troy Stump responded via email with the following:

"After careful consideration and discussion among our zoo staff, Here is our conclusion. Chewing gum, in and of itself, is not and would not
be a fatal substance for a bird to ingest and may draw some birds' interest. However, there are many variables, and we know better than to say anything could never happen. It is conceivable that a very small bird could attempt to eat a very large piece of gum. Obviously anything that might be large enough to lodge in an airway, be it bird or human, can be a problem."

Also answering Jerry's question, was Ern Tobias of Lake Tobias Wildlife Park near Halifax, Dauphin County. Speaking to CBS 21 News over the phone, he said this about his experience with birds and gum ... and monkeys:

"The birds we have here at the park, it's unlikely that they would even try to eat it. They might peck at it once or twice, and realize it's not something they want to eat. We've never had a bird die from eating gum.

"The monkeys on the other hand, they do pick up gum and eat it, unfortunately. But just like some people swallow gum, I've never seen it hurt the monkeys, either."

Last updated:   12 June 2012

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Sources:

    WHP-TV [Harrisburg, PA].   "Lie or Legit: Bird Eats Gum and Dies."
    4 August 2009.