What Do Ostriches Eat? (Full Diet, Feeding, Habits + Behavior)

What Do Ostriches Eat? (Full Diet, Feeding, Habits + Behavior)

Ostriches are known for their speed and size, ranking as the fastest animal on two legs and the largest and heaviest land bird. But exactly what do ostriches eat in order to sustain these lightning-fast running speeds and vast body size? And do they regularly need to drink to avoid dehydration in the arid desert landscapes they inhabit?

Ostriches are omnivores and have a diverse diet, including roots, flowers, bulbs, grasses, grains and fruits, as well as insects, lizards and small rodents. An adult ostrich typically consumes up to 1.8kg of food every day, but gains most of the moisture it needs from the food it eats.

In their natural habitats, water is not always readily available, and ostriches are known to be able to survive for two weeks or more without drinking. The need for food is more urgent, although ostriches can go for two or three days without eating if no foraging opportunities are available.

Although ostriches are omnivores, plants form the main element of their diet, with wild ostriches grazing for grass, seeds, roots and shrubs across arid desert and semi-desert landscapes. Read on to learn more about how they find food and what their dietary preferences are.

Ostriches enjoying leafy greens

Ostriches enjoying leafy greens

Overview of Ostrich Diet

Ostriches’ diets contain both plant and animal matter. Plants form the largest portion, with around 60 percent comprising leafy greens, grasses and other foliage.

A further 5 percent is animal-based, consisting of insects, including beetles and their larvae, worms and caterpillars, as well as some animal remains, lizards, snakes and amphibians.

Grit and stones are also eaten, representing a further 20 percent of an ostrich’s dietary intake, and the final 15 percent is fruits and legumes.

Ostriches foraging for food

Ostriches foraging for food

Ostriches in the Wild: Natural Diet

Plants & Grasses

Ostriches eat most plants available in their natural habitats, including a wide range of leaves, grasses, shrubs, flowers and roots, as well as berries, seeds, nuts, grains and legumes. Their digestive systems are perfectly able to digest both soft and hard foliage, with the aid of the grit and rocks they swallow.

Insects & Small Animals

Bugs, including beetles, larvae, caterpillars, worms and cockroaches, constitute around one fifth of an ostrich’s usual diet. These provide important sources of protein, particularly needed in the early stages of growth and development.

Seeds & Fruits

Fruits are a key source of moisture for ostriches, with favorites including abal, acacia, baobab, beech, wild melon, monkey orange and guarri. Fruits and berries are eaten mainly during the rainy seasons as they are more widely available than in times of extended drought or periods with little rainfall. Seeds, particularly grass seeds, are regularly eaten.

Pebbles & Sand

Ostriches actively seek out pebbles and sand to eat, to aid with digestion of the other elements of their diet.

Stones are swallowed and remain in their gizzard, where they are tumbled together with digestive juices and pound against other foods that are eaten, gradually breaking them into smaller pieces to enable them to pass through the digestive tract.

Over time, these pebbles become smooth and less effective at grinding food, so grit is regularly consumed to ensure the process works effectively.

Ostrich eating desert acacia

Ostrich eating desert acacia

Urban Ostriches: Encounters with Human Habitats

Living in close proximity to humans may bring urban ostriches into contact with food sources that they would not naturally encounter in an unpopulated environment, including plants that may have been treated with pesticides. Urban ostriches may also face risks from consuming unsuitable, inedible items, including litter and plastics, if their preferred foods are in short supply.

When their natural habitats are replaced with roads and settlements, ostriches may find themselves having to travel further in search of suitable grazing grounds. This may prove harmful if they end up coming across human-discarded trash or landfill sites. In times of hunger, ostriches are known to be less than picky eaters, so there is a risk that they will consume all sorts of items that should never be eaten.

Agricultural landscapes may offer an abundant source of food if ostriches are able to access cultivated fields planted with root crops or leafy greens. However, where pesticides and chemicals are used in some farming practices, this can prove dangerous to ostriches both in reducing the natural abundance of insects in their diets and by contaminating the plants they eat and nearby water sources.

Female (left) and male ostrich feeding on a southern African grassland

Female (left) and male ostrich feeding on a southern African grassland

Farm-Raised Ostriches: Diet in Captivity

Farm raised ostriches are usually fed on a special pellet diet, supplemented by fresh fruit and vegetables. Ratite pellets contain a balanced mix of alfalfa (which is high in moisture, fiber and protein), iron oxide, vitamins and calcium.

Maize is a common ingredient, offering concentrated carbohydrates as a good energy source, and peanuts may be added as a source of fats and protein.

Supplementary food given to farm-raised ostriches includes plenty of green fodder crops, such as cabbages and kale, as well as oranges, watermelons and carrots which offer an important source of hydration, calcium and protein.

Grit, pebbles, stones and sand are vital to an ostrich’s digestive processes, both in captivity and in the wild. The rough edges of the stones swallowed and held in the ostrich’s gizzard helps to grind food into smaller pieces to facilitate the digestion process. Once gizzard stones begin to lose their effectiveness, replacements will be swallowed.

Ostrich grazing in an arid landscape

Ostrich grazing in an arid landscape

Ostrich Chicks: Diet from Hatchling to Juvenile

Younger ostriches require a diet that is rich in protein in their early weeks and months of life. This is a vital time in their development, with rapid growth to gain their full adult height by the time they reach 18 months.

An intensely nutritious diet is needed to support this accelerated and constant growth: baby ostriches weigh about 1 kg (2.2 lb) when they hatch and within 18 months reach about 140 kg (in excess of 300 lb).

Adult ostriches need foods that are rich in fiber maintaining body functions and preventing obesity. The diet of older ostriches typically contains 18 percent or more fiber, while for younger birds this is less important and fiber content can be as low as 5 or 6 percent.

Ensuring appropriate dietary changes to match the different nutritional requirements can boost an ostrich’s chances of a longer, healthier life.

Close up of a baby ostrich grazing and foraging for food

Close up of a baby ostrich grazing and foraging for food

Seasonal Variations in Diet

Spring and summer

Spring and summer are the seasons during which wild ostriches enjoy the most diverse and varied diets, with fruits, seeds and insects widely available and landscapes dominated by lush green grasses and foliage thanks to regular rainfall at this time of year. Newly sprouting shoots are particularly enjoyed in early spring, and as summer advances, melons and berries ripen and are in abundance.

With the arrival of cooler temperatures in fall, plants begin to die back and these changes are reflected in the balance of an ostrich’s natural diet once summer ends.

Seeds and roots become the predominant food sources available in their habitats, and they are observed to up the intake of grit in order to cope with the increase in tough foods in their diet.


In winter, insects become more important in an ostrich’s diet, as less fresh plant matter is available. They will forage for anything edible, even bark and twigs if more nutritious alternatives can’t be found.

Any green vegetation they can find will help to keep them in a healthy condition. In extreme cold, an absence of natural food resources can bring severe survival challenges. Small reptiles, including lizards, snakes, and even tortoises, are among the top prey in winter months.

Ostrich in natural habitat

Ostrich in natural habitat

Ostrich Feeding Behaviors

Ostriches are sociable birds, wandering in large flocks known as herds in search of food. Up to 50 individuals graze together across large expanses of grassland plains, scanning the ground for seeds, grasses and invertebrates.

Spending up to 8 hours each day foraging for food, ostriches need to eat between 1 kg and 1.8 kg every day. They adapt their foraging to include whatever is seasonally available, and will

Unlike mammals, ostriches will eat entire plants, including roots and bulbs, rather than just eating leaves or stems. Digestion takes around 36 hours, with grit and stones in their gizzard serving as a grinding mechanism to break larger indigestible foods into smaller pieces.

The Role of Ostriches in Ecosystems

Free-roaming ostriches play a vital but unintentional role in seed dispersal throughout their habitats. They graze on wild grasses and other vegetation and as they wander, they will naturally poop. This poop contains many undigested seeds, which then take hold in their new location and can germinate and grow into plants.

Family of African Ostriches

Family of African Ostriches

Human-Ostrich Interactions

In tourist hotspots, there may be occasions when humans and ostriches cross paths, and in such situations, these giant birds may take a particular interest in their human neighbors and be relatively unafraid of approaching them.

Reports occasionally surface of ostriches raiding visitors’ picnics or showing a little too much curiosity to food being eaten by passengers in vehicles with open windows.

As ostriches are wild animals, their habitat must always be respected and care must be taken not to cause distress. It’s wise to keep your distance to avoid being bitten or kicked.

Some farms and safari hubs offer guided feeding experiences, where visitors are able to feed ostriches safely. Fruits and vegetables that are approved to offer ostriches include chopped apples, pears, grapes, squash, carrots and bok choy.

Avocados and onions are toxic to ostriches and should never be offered. Acorns are also to be avoided as they contain high levels of tannic acid which can make ostriches severely unwell.

Male Ostrich feeding on grass

Male Ostrich feeding on grass

Ostriches are omnivorous, although plants form the most important element of their diet. In their natural habitats, their preferred foods include leafy greens and a wide range of wild grasses.

In captivity, a pellet-based diet is usual, to offer a balance of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

Foods including fruits and berries provide all of an ostrich’s hydration needs, although water holes and pools may also be visited occasionally for drinking (and bathing!).

Chewing without teeth is impossible, which is why ostriches rely on swallowing grit and pebbles to help with the digestion process. These are held in the gizzard and tumbled together, effectively grinding any tough food particles into smaller pieces.


What's the importance of sand and pebbles in an ostrich's diet?

Ostriches swallow ‘grit’ – including sand and pebbles – and keep these in their gizzard to aid with digestion. The rough edges of the pebbles rub against the food they eat, grinding it into more digestible pieces.

Do ostriches drink a lot of water?

The natural plant-rich diet of ostriches includes sufficient moisture, which means they do not need to drink any additional fluids in order to stay hydrated. However, if they do come across a water source, they may well take a long drink when the opportunity arises.

Are there foods that can be toxic to ostriches?

Onion and avocado are toxic to ostriches and should never be offered. Acorns contain large amounts of tannic acid, which can lead to sickness in ostriches and may even prove fatal. For all birds, it is common sense to never feed foods containing chocolate, caffeine or alcohol, and ostriches are no exception.

How often do ostriches typically eat?

In the wild, ostriches will look for food every day although if necessary, they are able to survive for up to three days without eating. They will eat whatever is available, and will usually eat up to 1.8 kg of food a day, and more if they are particularly active.

As a particularly skilled survivalist in hot desert environments, the ostrich is used to traveling for long distances between fertile food grounds and although eating daily is usual, going for a couple of days without a decent meal will not have any impact on their health.

Ostrich feeding very early in the morning at sunrise

Ostrich feeding very early in the morning at sunrise

How long can ostriches go without eating?

Ostriches exhibit enviable stamina, and can last for up to two or three days between eating, and more than two weeks without water. Water is less important in their diet than for many bird species as they are desert animals and have evolved to gain moisture from the food they eat, rather than needing to drink to stay hydrated.

Why do ostriches eat stones?

Ostriches swallow stones, rocks and pebbles to aid with digestion. They do not digest these, instead keeping them in their gizzard. The rough edges of the stones help to grind food particles during the digestion process, breaking them down into pieces that can be digested more easily.

Do ostriches eat meat?

Ostriches are strictly omnivores and follow a diet that contains both meat and plants. However, plants are their chief food source, and meat in the form of mammals, lizards and amphibians forms less than 5% of their diet. Around 20% of an ostrich’s diet consists of insects and other small invertebrates, including caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, spiders and cockroaches.

How do ostriches eat?

Ostriches eat in the same way as most birds, by swallowing their food whole. Ostriches have very long but strong and flexible throats, which they can use to squeeze food down into their stomachs.

Their digestive system involves two stomachs; the first stomach - the proventriculus or glandular stomach - is quite similar to ours. The second stomach, the gizzard, allows birds to grind up foods into a fine paste for easy digestion.

Ostrich gizzards are large, and they regularly swallow large stones to help grind up their food - this is what enables them to consume various types of tough and hard-to-digest plant matter.

Enjoyed this content? Share it now

You may also like

Get the best of Birdfact

Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.

Your information will be used in accordance with Birdfact's privacy policy. You may opt out at any time.

© 2024 - Birdfact. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced without our written permission.