Ostriches are principally vegetable feeders, and wild birds do considerable damage to corn crops.
Extraordinary stories have been told of the powers of digestion of these birds, probably arising from the fact that when at liberty they swallow stones to aid the gizzard in its work, and in confinement gulp down readily whatever may be offered. The large eggs are well-known objects in this country. In bulk they are equal to twenty-four hen's eggs, and are excellent eating. Authorities differ as to the quality of the flesh of these birds. That of the young is generally allowed to be very good, while that of old birds is said to require the sharp sauce of hunger to render it palatable. Ostriches are polygamous, each male living in company with several females, which deposit their eggs in a common nest - if a hole in the sand can be so called. The male takes part in incubation, generally sitting at night. These birds have been known from remote antiquity. They are mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the classics. It was formerly the custom to hunt the ostrich on horseback for its plumes, and the natives of South Africa stalk it, clothing themselves in ostrich skins, so as to get near the birds without exciting alarm, and shooting them with poisoned arrows; but since 1867 the market for ostrich plumes has been almost entirely supplied with those taken from domesticated birds. The wing plumes are more highly prized than those of the tail,' and the yield from the male bird is much more valuable than that of his mate. The French have established ostrich farms in the north of the continent, and birds have been introduced into Australia and America for the same purpose.