Ostriches & Emus:


Ostrich Painting
“The Hatchlings” by John Seerey-Lester (Artist’s copyright – used by permission).

“On one occasion I saw and sketched a female tending her hatchlings. The young will get careful attention from both male and female adults before they develop the necessary independence to be on the move with the family group.”
John Seerey-Lester

OSTRICHES AND EMUS belong to the oldest living family of birds on earth, the ratites, or flightless fowl, a group that includes rheas, cassowaries, and kiwis. They are nomads, designed by 90 million years of evolution to roam over vast tracts of land. With their long, powerful legs and camel-like feet adapted for speed, they can run up to 40 miles an hour, emus covering 9 feet, ostriches 25 feet in a single stride. Their long necks and excellent periscopic vision enable them to survey the land for miles in all directions at once. If they appear awkward in captivity, it is because these fleet-footed birds are meant for wide open spaces, where their grace and intelligence can be exercised.

Ostriches grow to be 7 to 9 feet tall, weigh up to 350 pounds, and live for 40 to 70 years. Roaming the grasslands and deserts of their native Africa in small, scattered herds, they live on grass, berries, succulents, seeds and leaves. Their upper eyelids are fringed with tiny feathers that look like long eyelashes to protect their eyes from the fierce desert sun.

Emus grow to be 5 to 6 feet tall, weigh up to 140 pounds, and live for 25 to 30 years. They range widely into Australia’s interior thriving on shoots, seeds, fruits and insects. When food is abundant they store a thick layer of fat beneath the skin as a reserve for hard times.

Emu Flinders Chase National Park
Emu Photo by Frank Branchini

Ostriches and Emus Are Good Parents

Emus are gentle, friendly birds with a strong family life in which the father plays an active role in nest-building and in the 8-week incubation and subsequent rearing of the chicks. Similarly active, the elegant male ostrich performs a beautiful courtship dance for the female with outstretched, swaying and undulating wings to which she responds by lowering her head and languidly fluttering her wings. While as many as 6 ostrich hens may lay up to 40 eggs in a shared nest, the senior hen, who incubates the eggs with the help of the male, can tell her own eggs from all the other eggs in the nest. Both parents help the chicks to hatch by pecking at the shell after 6 weeks of incubation.

The family stays together for 10 months or more as the young birds learn to fend for themselves. The normally peaceful ostrich and emu will kick ferociously with their legs and bite with their beaks to protect their eggs and their young from enemies.

Degrading These Magnificent Birds to Meat and Merchandise:

Pulling feathers from the body of a living bird is cruel and painful. A feather is held firmly in a follicle, the wall of which is richly supplied with sensory fibers and nerves. Even clipping the feathers above the nerve endings pulls on the sensitive skin and muscle tissue to which the feathers are attached. Removing a feather from a bird requires a hard, steady pull. Feather removal is a barbaric act.
Plucked Ostrich

Subjecting ostriches and emus with their long thin necks and legs, and their large fragile eyes, to transport is cruel and inhumane. Slaughter-bound birds and mammals are typically starved for hours and even days before they are killed. Hauled in all kinds of weather, they are forced to endure truck vibrations, heat stress, cold, damp, thirst, and terror.

It takes about five minutes for the blindfolded bird to be plucked. The bird is then released into a holding pen, joining a growing number of others, all plucked, covered in bumps where the feathers were ripped out, streaming blood, and awaiting slaughter.

Agscene, Compassion in World Farming. Summer/Autumn 1994

For the feather trade, the feathers of the living ostrich are pulled straight from the socket by hand, yanked out with pliers, chopped off with hedge clippers, and shaved off with electric shears. To protect the commercial value of the “hyde” for accessories, the birds are stripped of all their feathers and slaughtered completely naked. They are then shot with a captive bolt, like cattle, or, like poultry, they are electrically shocked (not stunned), and then hung upside down to have their throats cut, being kept alive while their blood drains. They are slaughtered at 12 to 15 months old.


The mania to degrade ostriches and emus into just one more commodity item must be stopped. Those who see the ostrich and the emu only as slabs of bloody meat, “less cholesterol,” luggage, trinkets, cash cows, and cowboy boots, defile the living beauty of these birds. Others have been entranced by their fleetness, courting rituals and family life, and by the sheer wonder of their ancient existence.

Beneath all the fluff about “family fun and laughter” of forcing ostriches to pull chariots and be ridden rodeo-style in some places, a spirit of malice and meanness informs these dismal performances, illustrating what Jim Mason calls in his book An Unnatural Order, “Rituals of Spectacular Humiliation.” Such rituals, he writes, are designed to “reinforce myths of animal stupidity, inferiority, and willingness to submit to human domination by reducing animals to toys and clowns.” Ostrich and emu races strip the birds of their dignity, put them in danger, and makes fun of them. Ostriches and emus are not suited by temperament or anatomy to pull chariots and be ridden by “cowboys.” Their large fragile eyes, long necks and legs are easily injured.

Ostrich Etching Picasso
Etching by Pablo Picasso

What Can I Do?

Especially in the early morning, a few birds in a group will suddenly receive a mystic, inaudible cue and begin to dance in circles on tip-toes, with outspread wings. Very soon the whole group will join spontaneously in the twirling dance [which] may be a primeval urge or merely an expression of the joy of being alive.

Holtzhausen & Kotze, The Ostrich

Become active on behalf of these birds. When you encounter news stories touting the ostrich-emu industry, ostrich races, feather-wearing and other cruelties, write a letter to the editor or program director. Use social media to educate people. Conduct a protest demonstration if an ostrich-emu convention is being planned or held in your area. Monitor your state legislature and oppose any bills that seek to promote the farming of ostriches and emus in your state. Do not buy an ostrich feather-duster or anything made of ostrich or emu flesh, feathers, “hyde,” or oil. Emu oil is a slaughterhouse product that may be listed in skin-care product ingredients as “kalays.”

For more information contact: United Poultry Concerns