Ostriches are the tallest and heaviest birds in the world and the fastest animal on two legs. Ostriches are not just known for their towering and rather prehistoric looks but are superb runners that can cover the length of a marathon in around 45 minutes. Their large size perhaps predictably indicates that they have big appetites to match, so what do ostriches eat?
Ostriches are omnivores and eat a diverse array of roots, flowers, bulbs, grasses, grains and fruits, as well as insects, lizards and small rodents. An adult ostrich typically needs around 1kg to 1.8kg of food every day, which means they’ll generally eat anything available to them. They do lean upon being vegetarians, however.
Whilst ostriches are omnivores, more than 50% of their diet is made up of plant matter. 20% is made up of stones, sand and grit, which ostriches use to grind up food in their gizzards - a specialised muscular stomach. This helps them digest pretty much anything they can swallow.
Read on to discover more about the feeding habits of this large and wonderful bird!
Ostriches enjoying leafy greens
Ostriches are flexible eaters. In captivity, they’re typically fed commercial ostrich feeds, which contain both vitamins, minerals and macronutrients, as well as grit and sand to assist in proper digestion.
Pretty much any sort of fruit or vegetable is readily consumed by ostriches, especially leafy greens, grasses and berries. They will also eat both living and dried insects, rodents, lizards and amphibians.
As large birds, ostriches can eat some 1kg to 1.5kg of food every single day or more if they’re particularly physically active.
Ostriches foraging for food
Ostriches in captivity are typically fed between 3 to 4lbs (1.3kg to 1.8kg) of food every day, which includes any grit or stones required to help them digest food in their gizzards.
In the wild, ostriches will eat whatever quantities of foods that they need to survive, which depends vastly on their activities at the time.
Their excellent ability to run considerable distances ensures that they’re nearly always able to travel between areas of food abundance, which means they’re unlikely to go short on food. Ostriches are durable birds with superb stamina, however, and can go without food for 2 to 3 days at a time if they need to.
Ostrich eating desert acacia
Ostriches eat most plants available to them in their natural habitats, which includes 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, so long as they consume adequate grit and rocks to aid digestion in their gizzards.
All birds have gizzards, but ostrich gizzards are particularly large and strong. A gizzard is a second stomach that digests food by grinding it down into a fine paste before passing it onto the intestines for digestion. Gizzards are necessary to help birds digest hard foods, as birds don’t have teeth in the same sense as mammals and other animals and tend to swallow food whole.
Ostriches consume stones, grit and sand, which stay in their gizzard, helping them grind down food to a fine paste. They’ve been known to swallow stones of some 10cm in size! This is why their diets are so diverse - their muscular gizzards help them digest most foods. Once these stones have worn away, the ostrich will simply swallow more.
Ostrich grazing in an arid landscape
Some animals, including birds but also crocodiles, alligators, seals and sea lions, have gizzards, some of which require the consumption of stones called gastroliths. Gizzards are muscular stomachs that grind food up before passing it into the intestines. Ostriches eat stones that sit in their gizzard and are used to quite literally grind up food - somewhat like a pestle and mortar.
Grasses are some of the most plentiful foods in the ostrich’s natural habitat. They will regularly graze dense grassy plains and savannas, consuming all manner of tall grasses, reeds, shrubs and other nutrient-dense foliage.
Ostrich in natural habitat
Whilst an ostrich may well eat a fish if presented with an easy opportunity to do so, they do not hunt fish. As terrestrial, grazing omnivores, ostriches eat most foods with a preference for plants which form over 50% of their diet. They would rarely if ever, come across fish in their natural habitats.
Ostriches are strictly omnivores, but meat in the form of mammals, lizards and amphibians forms less than 5% of their diet. They’re much more likely to consume meat in the form of insects, which form around 20% of their diet.
Overall, ostriches have a preference for plant matter, though they are still easily capable of eating meat if they want or need to.
Family of African Ostriches
In the wild, ostriches will usually find and eat food daily. They are exceptionally good at surviving in hot and arid climates, though, and can go without water for as long as two weeks. Ostriches get most of their water from food rather than drinking it directly.
Their ability to run long distances enables them to travel between fertile feeding grounds, so they’re not likely to go long without consuming food, but they are also excellent survivors if forced into a situation where they can’t eat.
Male Ostrich feeding on grass
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.
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