Ostriches are one of the most extraordinary creatures in nature. They are the fastest, tallest, and heaviest two-legged birds. The fossils that were found in central Europe state that they have been around for more than 40 million years. Another great thing about them is that they are fast runners and can cover a marathon distance in 45 minutes. After learning all those characteristics, it is impossible to not think about what do ostriches eat.
In this article, we’ll discuss the eating habits of ostriches and take a brief look at their biology in order to answer the question, “What do ostriches eat?”
The Ostrich’s Biology
Ostriches are birds from the Struthioniformes family. They are flightless birds. The two main species of the ostrich are the common ostrich and the Somali ostrich. Their main living habitat is in Africa, and it determines mostly what do ostriches eat. Ostriches are mainly found in dry and warm savannas and arid places. They have the ability to run at 70 km per hour, which is approximately 43,5 mph, making them the fastest birds on the planet.
Those flightless birds live in herds that mainly consist of a dozen birds. The alpha males are mainly the “heads” of the herds, and they mate with the group’s dominant female. However, in some cases, males also mate with other hens too. Other hens of the herd lay their eggs in the dominant hen’s nest. Dominant hens and dominant males are the ones who incubate the eggs one by one.
They have wings but can not fly. Well, wings are still important and necessary for them. It helps them stay in balance when running and changing directions. To show their dominance, they hold their heads up high and lift their wings. However, to show the submission, the heads are lowered, and the wings and tail are dropped.
They cannot run away when they are in danger. There is a popular belief about ostriches that they bury their heads in the sand. But guess what? It is not true! When they go into defense mode, they lower their heads to be less visible to predators. Their plumage can blend well with sand and grass, and it makes them less visible. When the ostrich is threatened, it can attack with its clawed feet. The feet can be so powerful that they can even kill a lion.
Now let’s move on to their habits to see what do ostriches eat.
Eating Habits Of Ostriches
To answer the question of what do ostriches eat, we first need to look at their eating habits. Ostriches do not have teeth, so digestion of food is a little harder for them. They are called Gastroliths because they use stones for food digestion. To keep their stomach girdles muscular, they will swallow scraps, grit, rocks, and any kind of pebble. Also, rocks help in grinding the food that they eat. Rocks do not go anywhere; they just wear down in the stomach and erode afterward. When it happens, the bird replaces it with the newer rocks and sand. There are several animals and birds that are gastroliths and eat rocks. Those are crocodiles, alligators, seals, and sea lions.
They are very good eaters and can eat from 1 to 1.8 kg of food every day, which is approximately 3 to 4 lbs. This also includes stones and grit. They will eventually eat whatever they come across to survive.
Believe it or not, ostriches swallow the food whole. The flexible and strong throat helps to swallow as long as it squeezes food into the size and leads it to the stomach. Ostriches have two stomachs. The first is regular and similar to many other animals and birds. It is called the proventriculus, also called the glandular. The second stomach is called the gizzard.
All birds have gizzards. The gizzard is like a second stomach and is the most important part of the digestive system. The gizzard of ostriches is large and very strong; it grinds food until the consistency of a paste and then passes it on for digestion. It is actually very necessary for the birds. Birds do not have teeth, and they need some additional help to grind the food they consume.
It is very unlikely for them to go short on food. It is because they are very good runners and can travel between different areas pretty fast. They can survive in hot and arid climates and are pretty tough. They have suburban stamina. However, they can be without food for 2 or 3 days. They can be without water for up to two weeks. They rarely drink the water by itself; mostly they receive it indirectly from food.
What Do Ostriches Eat In The Wild?
Ostriches are omnivorous creatures, and they mainly feed on roots, flowers, grass, fruit, bulbs, and grains. Normally, they graze dense grassy plains and savannas. All kinds of grass can be consumed by them, including tall grass, reeds, and other foliage. However, in rare cases, they will eventually eat lizards, insects, and small animals. Even though they prefer to be vegetarian, they will eat everything that becomes available.
Their living location has the biggest impact on their dietary habits. More than 60% of their diet is plant-based, 15% is fruits and legumes, and 5% of the food is insects and small animals. 20% of ostriches’ diet is stones, sand, and grit. Eating stones help them with food grinding. This is also the reason for their muscular stomachs, which makes digestion of any kind of food easier.
Their plant diet mainly consists of green grasses, wild bushes, shrubs, plant roots, seeds, sprouts, berries, flora, nuts, and succulents.
An ostrich will eventually eat fish if it has an opportunity. However, they will not hunt for it. Their digestive system gives them the opportunity to eat anything they wish.
As already mentioned above, 5% of the ostriches’ diet is for small animals. Even though scavenging is a small part of their diet, it is still an important source of needed vitamins. They are not predators and normally will not attack unless they go into a defensive mode. However, they will scavenge and eat leftover dead animals. Ostriches mainly eat mice, rats, lizards, frogs, snakes, moths, crickets, and grasshoppers.
The plants that they eat are mainly dependent on the natural habitat they live in. The digestive system is fit to digest any kind of food, including hard foliage.
What Do Ostriches Eat In Captivity?
It is not widely discussed what do ostriches eat in captivity. There is no historical evidence of ostriches living like livestock. People make ostrich farms, and ostriches are raised for meat, skin, and eggshell on every continent except Antarctica.
The truth is that ostriches are very flexible eaters and can consume many different varieties of food. Normally, what do ostriches eat consists of eating plants, bugs, and small animals. However, in captivity, they are mostly fed a well-balanced diet. They need vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients, and also sand and rocks for proper digestion.
What Do Ostriches Eat as Babies?
Ostrich eggs have a creamy color and are glossy. The shell of it is very thick and it also has small pits. The nest normally has 20 eggs in it, which are laid by different females. The diet of newly hatched ostriches is different from that of adult ones. Babies absorb a lot of the yolk from the egg they were in. This gives them enough nutrients and vitamins for the week. During this period, they learn to walk within a day of hatching and start to go around with their parents or other adult ostriches.
Parents do not feed their babies, but they guide the chicks and encourage them to eat. They do it by vocalizations. It may not be the actual parents who guide them. Chicks can be looked after by two other ostriches who take the responsibility of parenting the whole herd. They start to feed themselves instinctively and learn by looking at adults and copying their feeding behaviors.
Babies can go pretty quickly and eat the food that adults eat in 1 to 2 months. They stay attached to the adult ostriches for up to one year.
What Eats Ostriches?
Another interesting characteristic that those goofy-looking birds have is that they can be quite aggressive and powerful. Their kicks can be deadly. They are known for attacking and chasing other animals and even humans if they feel threatened. It does not mean that they can not be attacked. We discussed what do ostriches eat. However, it is also interesting that they can become prey easily. The main threats and predators for them are cheetahs, lions, crocodiles, hyenas, and wild dogs.
- Ostrich eggs are the largest among all living land animals.
- They are eating rocks for digestion. It is known that they can swallow stones that are 10 centimeters in size.
- Ostriches have two stomachs.
- Ostrich eggs are the heaviest among entire animal and bird species.
- Eggs can weigh up to 2 kg and be 15 centimeters in length and 12,5 in diameter. (6inX5in)
- One ostrich egg is equal to 24 chicken eggs in weight.
After discussing what do ostriches eat, it is clear that they are exceptional creatures in this way too. Their diet can be different and is mainly dependent on the living environment and location. It seems like they are able to eat and digest anything that is small enough for them to swallow.
Even though they are large in range, the number of ostriches is declining every year. One of the reasons for it is the loss of habitat due to human activities. Another important reason is that they hunt for their skin, meat, eggs, feathers, and fat. These flightless birds are truly unique, and they need protection from us.