A poignant photo of a pair of barn swallows, one of them deceased, has been circulating on social media sites recently, proclaiming that discarded chewing gum killed the bird when it mistook the wad of gum for bread and choked. According to Snopes.com, however, this newly created urban legend has little basis in fact, and the barn swallow photos are unrelated to discarded gum.
Will birds eat discarded chewing gum? They might peck at it, but they would quickly realize it was not edible and would not ingest it and subsequently choke as the photo suggests. Furthermore, the pictured birds are barn swallows, which are insectivorous - they would not even be interested in bread, which is what the gum was supposed to resemble in order to tempt the birds to nibble it.
While this photo may be inaccurate, its message is still a good one. Litter can threaten birds, and many birds will accidentally ingest toxic materials. Knowing this, birders and wildlife lovers should always take care to discard of their litter carefully so no small piece of seemingly innocent trash could cause harm to birds.
Photo © J Kivinen