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Discarded chewing gum may not kill birds – but all litter still a danger to animals

A Facebook meme shared in Nigeria shows two birds, one apparently dead, as well as a piece of chewing gum.

The text says: “People throw away gum on the ground and to birds, it looks like pieces of bread and when they eat the gum, it gets stuck in their throats. So, they are unable to drink and eat so they slowly die.”

But is this why you should throw your gum in the bin? 

Bird in photo hit by car

The photo of the birds is actually from a series showing a barn swallow caring for its injured mate, which had been hit by a car.

The small bird stayed close to its dying companion,  delivering food and water and showing distress when it died.

Bread not part of barn swallow’s diet

According to a 2019 article on the Spruce, a home and garden website, the pictured birds wouldn’t even eat bread. Barn swallows are insectivorous and “wouldn't be at all interested in a real piece of bread on the ground, much less one as fake-looking as a wad of gum”.

The birds mostly feed in flight, catching bugs in the air. According to the South African National Biodiversity Institute, they also “occasionally pick prey items from the water surface, walls and plants”.

Gum itself not fatal to birds

It is possible for a bird to die from eating discarded gum, the Spruce says, but not in the way the meme suggests.

“A small bird may choke on an exceptionally large wad of gum, or a large wad of gum with other material or litter stuck to it could block a bird's digestion.”

But “in reality there have never been any verified records... that note birds dying because of eating gum”.

This is because “gum doesn't look that much like bread or any other food for birds” and “any ingested gum would pass through the bird's digestive tract like other food”.

Fact-checking website Hoax-Slayer adds that “bird experts have noted that gum is not likely to be a fatal substance to birds in and of itself”.

US news channel CBS 21 News, in a segment called “Lie or Legit”, interviewed two experts about the subject. Both said eating gum wouldn’t kill birds. Strangely, the presenter discounted the experts’ opinions and concluded that the claim was “legit”.

Litter dangerous to animals

Chewing gum isn’t likely to kill birds. But litter is still dangerous to birds and other wildlife. 

Hoax-Slayer agrees that you should “be responsible with your trash”. It adds that sugar-free chewing gum containing Xylitol can be toxic to dogs and other pets “because it can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar”. 

So don’t throw your rubbish, including your chewing gum, on the ground. – Taryn Willows

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