With a long neck, large beautiful eyes, and weird behavior, ostriches have an extremely large fan following over the world. These flightless birds are found in the sub-Saharan deserts of Africa. People are always curious to know more about these creatures’ behavior, habitat, etc. The most important of them is the ostrich’s diet. In this post, you’ll get detailed information about the food that ostriches eat.
So, what do ostriches eat? Ostriches are omnivorous in nature and generally eat plant roots, leaves, grasses, small rodents, locusts, insects, and snakes in the desert. In captivity, ostriches are fed with a special type of pelleted food for flightless birds.
When it comes to food, ostriches aren’t very picky. They can pretty much eat anything they can find in the desert and can digest it. They eat small pebbles along with food to grind up the food in their stomach.
Let’s learn more about their diet in detail.
Ostrich’s diet in the wild (desert)
Ostriches are the heaviest and largest birds in the whole world. Being the largest flightless birds, they have to eat a lot of food to maintain their body. Ostriches are completely adapted to savanna, sub-Saharan deserts of Africa and naturally eat green grasses, succulent plants, rodents, insects, etc.
In the wild, the major portion of their diet is plants, roots, and grasses. Insects are eaten in a very less quantity and that too to get certain nutrients that they couldn’t get from plant material.
These are the foods that ostriches like to eat in the desert.
- Plant leaves
Due to their special ability of digestion, ostriches eat a wide range of food. Groups of ostriches are also sometimes seen grazing various type of grasses. Ostriches, in general, avoid high fibrous items as it can cause swelling in their intestine and further block it completely.
Ostrich has strong muscular legs that help it to run at a fast speed (nearly 65 km/h). This helps them to catch rodents and snakes and then kill them with their sharp beak. The sharp beak allows them to cut the flesh into pieces but due to lack of teeth ostriches can’t chew their food.
Ostriches eat pebbles and sand
Ostriches also consume sand and small pebbles in large quantities to help them grind their food in the stomach. They have a special gizzard, basically, a stomach made of tough muscles so that the pebbles don’t cause any problems or pain in the stomach.
Ostriches don’t have teeth to chew their food. They simply swallow the bits of meat or plants and the grinding process is done in the gizzard for proper digestion. The stomach acts as a ball mill which can grind up anything using pebbles and sand.
How often do ostriches drink water?
Ostrich is highly adapted to the hot climate of the desert and has a lot of similarities with African camels. Ostriches can go for days without water and generally fulfill their need for water by drinking it from water condensed on plants leaves.
Every desert animal, including camels, has a special biological system developed in their body that leads to very less loss of moisture from the body. Ostriches also have such a system, therefore they need very less water to survive even in such hot regions.
There are certain things that help an ostrich to conserve water in their body.
- In order to reduce water loss, ostriches have learned to concentrate their urine and send back to the body from the bladder.
- The large flock of feathers prevents moisture to evaporate from their body.
- Just like camels, ostriches can vary their body temperatures to a large degree, more than other animals. It leads to less panting and further reducing the loss of moisture from the body. Panting generally varies on temperatures and humidity in the air. For e.g, a hot dry climate would lead to more and more panting and more frequent need for water even for the ostrich.
Animals that use the urine concentration method generally have dark brown urine. Therefore, camels and ostrich urinate dark brown fluid.
Ostrich’s diet in the captivity
The ostrich meat industry in the USA breed thousands of ostriches which are kept and fed in the captivity until they become adult and then sent to the slaughterhouse to fulfill the need of people for exotic meat.
People also breed ostriches and keep them as farm animals. Hence, it becomes very important to understand the feeding behavior of ostriches.
Ostriches in captivity are generally fed pelleted food as it contains all the necessary nutrients for the ostrich proper growth and nourishment. Captivated ostriches do not graze or go out to hunt certain insects, hence they have to get all the required nutrients from the pellets.
Ostriches spend nearly 8 hours a day eating continuously eating their food. The food should always contain high nutrition value and all the essential minerals for the proper growth of the bird. The pellets consist of Lucern (alfalfa), iron oxide, vitamins, calcium, etc which are highly beneficial for the ostrich.
Ostrich eats a lot and you can understand this by the fact that one hectare of lucerne pastures can feed only 9 ostriches in total. If you compare it with a cow, an average ostrich eats 3 times the cow relative to its body weight. If you are feeding all the necessary nutrients and minerals to your ostriches, they are less likely to catch the diseases.
Common food fed to ostriches is maize as they are a concentrated source of carbohydrates. Lucern is another important food on the priority list that fulfills their need for protein and fiber. Peanuts are rich in proteins and fats that should also be mixed with the feed.
Carcass meal is rich in amino acids and proteins that should be served after 6 weeks in optimum quantity as stated in Table 1. One should keep it in mind that young ostriches should not be served amino acid-rich feed.
Food for Ostrich Chicks
Ostrich chicks should be fed optimally, as it will decide the size and weight of the ostrich when it becomes an adult. During the first 12 to 15 days, the young ostrich depends on the yolk sac for nutrition, after which they start eating.
Feeding highly nutritious food to baby ostrich is very important as this is the time when it builds its body to fight against certain diseases. Chicks learn to feed by seeing other older ostriches. Food served to baby ostrich should contain 25% green plants and grass as it enhances their ability to bite.
Table 1 shows that after 10-12 days, the young ostrich can be served with maize meals, peanut oil cake, alfalfa, etc. Chicks don’t have the ability to conserve water hence, they need sufficient moisture with their food. Make sure, ostrich chicks are provided with enough water so they don’t get dehydrated.