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Can Birds Die From Eating Discarded Gum?

Outline
Circulating message claims that birds can die after eating gum thrown on the ground because it fouls their systems and prevents them from eating or drinking. The message includes a photograph depicting a small dead bird with another bird looking on.



Brief Analysis
Although the claims in the message cannot be conclusively dismissed as false, the warning remains unsubstantiated and in all likelihood greatly exaggerates the potential danger. Bird experts have noted that gum is not likely to be a fatal substance to birds in and of itself although it is conceivable that a small bird might eat gum and choke as a result. And, most birds would not actually eat the gum. Other messages that feature the same photograph, claim that the bird was killed by a car and make no mention of gum at all.

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Detailed analysis and references below example.

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Last updated: 12th June 2012
First published: 12th June 2012
Article written by Brett M. Christensen
Research by Brett Christensen, David White
About Brett Christensen and Hoax-Slayer


Example
Did you Know that ??

Gum thrown on the ground looks like bread to birds, which try to eat it. It fouls their entire systems and prevents them ingesting any real nourishment or water. So they die slowly. Share this and be responsible with your trash.

Birds die from gum warning




Detailed Analysis
According to this message, which circulates via social media posts and email, people should never throw their chewing gum on the ground because birds may eat it and die as a result. The message claims that birds eat the gum because they think it is bread. It suggests that the gum fouls the bird's system and subsequently prevents it from ingesting enough food and water thereby causing a slow death. To illustrate the danger, the message includes a photograph of a small dead bird apparently being watched over by a still living companion.

There is currently not enough information to conclusively dismiss the message as false. However, the message almost certainly exaggerates the potential danger of discarded gum to birds.

In response to a viewer question, an August 2009 CBS 21 "Lie or Legit" report asked wild life experts for their opinions regarding the danger of gum for birds. Experts at ZooAmerica in Hershey told CBS 21:
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.
Another expert from Lake Tobias Wildlife Park told CBS 21:
The birds we have here at the park...its unlikely that they would even try to eat it. They might peck at it once or twice, and realize its not something they want to eat. We've never had a bird die from eating gum.
You can view the full report in the following Youtube video:

Moreover, the photograph of the dead bird included in the message has circulated in an entirely different context since at least 2009. Original descriptions of the image claim that the bird was in fact killed by a passing car and make nary a mention of chewing gum or its potential danger.

Of course, the advice in the message to "be responsible with your trash", certainly should be heeded. While this particular message may exaggerate the potential risk to birds, various types of rubbish thrown on the ground can certainly contaminate environments and be potentially harmful to wildlife. And, in fact, sugar free chewing gum that contains Xylitol can be toxic to dogs and other pets because it can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar. Throwing any type of rubbish on the ground - including gum - is simply irresponsible.

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References
CBS 21 Lie or Legit
Earth Connection - A Sad Story
Is Chewing Gum Toxic to Your Pet?

Last updated: 12th June 2012
First published: 12th June 2012
Article written by Brett M. Christensen
Research by Brett Christensen, David White
About Brett Christensen and Hoax-Slayer