Pet Keen is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Home > Birds > Can You Have an Ostrich as a Pet? Care Guide, Legality, and FAQ

Can You Have an Ostrich as a Pet? Care Guide, Legality, and FAQ

Ostrich standing in a dry field

If you’re thinking about bringing an ostrich home, that’s literally a big decision. Not only because the care, upkeep, and expense of owning an ostrich is a big endeavor, but they are the world’s largest birds. Some ostriches can grow as high as 9.2 feet, which is about 3.5 feet taller than the average human!

If the size (and powerful legs) of this bird doesn’t deter you and you’re looking for more information, you’ve come to the right article. We’ll go over any legal issues that you might face depending on where you live as well as what to expect with the general care of an ostrich but the short answer is Yes, you can have an Ostrich as a pet.

divider-birds

A Little About the Ostrich

masai ostrich
Image Credit: worldclassphoto, Shutterstock

If you are seriously thinking about owning an ostrich, it’s vital that you learn as much as possible about these giant birds. The best way to take care of any animal is to understand its diet and natural habitat, which will make you an overall better ostrich owner.

The ostrich is an iconic bird from Africa found in open country on savannahs and deserts and primarily subsist on plants, seeds, and roots. They get most of their water from the vegetation they eat. But while plants are their main diet, ostriches are also known to eat lizards, insects, or other small animals.

They average 7 to 9 feet in height, weigh around 220 to 350 pounds, and live for up to 30 to 40 years in the wild.

We all know ostriches can’t fly, but they can run at 31 miles per hour and sprint for up to 43 miles per hour! And their wings aren’t entirely useless as they can be used to help the ostrich change direction while running.

And then there are those legs! The ostrich’s legs in a single stride can cover 10 to 16 feet, and they also are great for defense. One swift kick can kill a lion or human. It also helps that each foot has two toes with long, sharp claws.

divider-birdcage

The Legality of Owning an Ostrich

flock of ostrich
Image Credit: Piqsels

Before going over how to take care of an ostrich, we should get into whether you actually can.

The common ostrich is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as ‘least concern,’ but the ostrich population is declining. However, the ostrich is not usually restricted to own due to its status, but you’ll need to check with your municipality, province, or state regarding what steps are necessary to own an ostrich.

If you live in the UK, you’ll likely need a license to own one as they are classified as dangerous and wild birds.

In Canada, it depends on the province and city or municipality you live in. For example, ostriches are prohibited in the city of Toronto.

Ostriches are legal and don’t need a permit in most states in the US, but they are illegal to own in Maine, and you’ll need a permit in Florida and import documentation in Oklahoma.

Regardless, you should double-check with the laws in your area before you purchase an ostrich.

divider-bird

Caring for an Ostrich

ostrich standing
Image Credit: Piqsels

When it comes to the care and upkeep of an ostrich, the first thing you need to consider is the space your ostrich needs. On average, a pair of ostriches will need one acre of land as an absolute minimum. You’ll also need to invest in fencing, pens, and sheds for shelter.

Fencing

Fences should be a minimum of 6 feet tall, and chain-link fences tend to be commonly used. However, it’s recommended that the openings in the fence be no larger than 2” x 4” so the ostriches don’t get their heads stuck.

You’ll want to avoid fencing that can be stretched or easily broken, and it should be embedded into the soil at least 6 inches.

Pens and Shed

The average pen size for two to six birds should be 100’ x 300’, as anything smaller can result in infertility issues. Essentially, a minimum of 5,000 square feet per bird is necessary.

The shelter should be at least 12’ x 12’ with 6-foot doors. Most ostriches are kept inside overnight in case of predators.

Feeding

Ostriches can be fed a pelleted diet specially formulated for ratite birds (large, flightless birds like emus and cassowaries). They also eat oranges, beets, cabbages, and grains, as well as leaves, roots, and seeds (like in the wild).

A fully mature ostrich needs about two pounds of food every day and four gallons of water. Ostriches also need dirt and rocks that they swallow, which aids them in digesting food.

girl farmer of ostrich
Image By: StockCo, Shutterstock

Grooming

This is the easy part. Ostriches take sand baths, so you’ll want to ensure they have access to sand, but otherwise, you don’t need to bathe them. They also don’t need their toenails trimmed as they naturally wear down and are necessary for the ostrich to scratch for food and rocks.

Veterinary Care

To start, you’ll want to have your ostrich microchipped. They are known to escape from zoos and farms from time to time, so you’ll want your ostrich returned safely home. You’ll also want a health certificate and lab testing done on your ostrich before bringing it home.

Otherwise, if your bird is healthy, you’ll want a yearly visit from a vet that specializes in ratite birds, preferably in June, which is before breeding season. If there are any bird diseases going around, you might have your ostrich dewormed and vaccinated.

Entertainment

You’ll want to ensure there are rocks and pebbles as well as long grasses in your ostrich’s enclosure. You can also scatter the food around, which will encourage pecking and foraging behavior. There are puzzle feeders that are also available but spreading the food around might be enough.

Reproduction

In the wild, ostriches live in smaller herds with less than a dozen birds. These herds are led by alpha males who mate with the dominant hen. The other females in the herd might sometimes mate with the alpha or other males who wander by. Males are quite aggressive during mating season.

All eggs are placed in the dominant hen’s nest, although her egg is usually in the center. Both the dominant male and female take turns incubating the eggs.

Breeding the domestic ostrich can start in June and usually ends by October or November. The hen typically lays one egg about every two days until there’s enough for her to cover with her body.

Can You Ride an Ostrich?

Technically, the answer is yes. In some areas, like South Africa, ostrich riding and racing can be popular events.

However, if the question is, “Should you ride an ostrich?” the answer will be an emphatic no!

While they are strong birds, they are not built to hold the weight of a human being. If they are ridden too often, it could start to weaken some of their bones and muscles, which will cause pain every time someone gets on their backs.

An ostrich that is under stress or in pain is also more likely to become aggressive. And this is one bird you don’t want to come after you!

So, not only is riding an ostrich terrible for the bird, but it’s super risky for you as well. Just don’t do it.

divider-birdcage

Ostrich FAQs

Baby ostriches swimming in shallow water
Image By: polyfish, Pixabay

Do ostriches really bury their heads in the sand?

No. It’s believed this myth started because ostriches will lie down and press their heads and necks along the ground to blend in with the sand. This form of camouflage is a defense behavior, and from a distance, it can appear that their heads have disappeared. This is probably why it was believed they buried their heads in the sand.

What is the best age to get an ostrich?

The younger, the better, as it gives the chick a chance to imprint on you. And the younger they are, the less expensive they are. However, chicks under three months of age tend to be much more difficult to keep alive as they get stressed easily. It’s generally recommended for beginners to start with ostriches that are 1 ½ to 2 years old.

How old do domestic ostriches get?

We mentioned earlier ostriches in the wild tend to live for 30 to 40 years. Domestic ostriches are likely to live up until they are 50. So, this is a lifelong commitment if you’re considering an ostrich as a pet.

How big is an ostrich egg?

It should come as no surprise that the largest bird in the world lays the largest eggs in the world. The egg averages about 6 inches in length and weighs about 3 pounds. Which is basically equivalent to two dozen (or 24) chicken eggs.

How do ostriches defend themselves?

We mentioned one method earlier – they camouflage themselves on the ground to hide. They also use high speed to escape from frightening or dangerous situations. And then there’s kicking. Ostriches are forward kickers and have been known to kill lions with just one kick. So don’t ever stand in front of an angry or frightened ostrich!

divider-birds

Conclusion

Deciding to own an ostrich as a pet is not a decision to be made lightly. Ostriches are quite capable of killing a human if angry or scared, and it’s relatively easy for them to escape given their size and speed.

They also eat quite a lot and are not the cheapest pet to take care of. And on top of it all, they can live for at least half of your own life and are much taller than you.

But the ostrich is a beautiful bird that is quite a joy to watch when they run. For the right person, ostriches can make an amazing addition to the right farm.


Featured Image Credit: polyfish, Pixabay

Our vets

Want to talk to a vet online?

Whether you have concerns about your dog, cat, or other pet, trained vets have the answers!

Our vets