Behaviour, nutrition and welfare of Ratites

Ratites are a family of large flightless birds that includes ostrich, emu, cassowary, rhea and kiwi. They are popular zoo exhibits and ostrich, emu and rhea are increasingly being kept in mixed species exhibits with other birds and mammals, particularly large hoofstock. Whilst these exhibits have many advantages in terms of space use and visitor experience and learning there are reports of injury to the birds as a result of aggressive interactions. We have been investigating the behaviour of these species, and another large bird the marabou stork, in mixed and single species exhibits focusing on enclosure use, spacing between individuals and interactions within and between species. Results indicate that all interactions including aggressive ones are more frequent within species. Some species seem to like staying close to each other but other species deliberately avoid each other in the enclosure. Overall marabou stork do not appear to be suitable for mixed species exhibits, emu and rhea generally seem well suited to mixed species exhibits and ostrich can be if the other species are chosen with care, some species combinations should definitely be avoided.

In addition, we have also been investigating poor breeding results within the European programme for Darwin’s rhea. One of the most likely reasons for this is nutrition so, along with other husbandry factors, we have focused on the diet of breeding adults and parent- and hand-reared youngsters Diets are extremely variable across European zoos and often do not meet minimum requirements for some key nutrients.

All these results will be incorporated into updated best practice guidelines via the EAZA Ratite Taxon Advisory Group.

Photo: Woodland Park Zoo

Project team:

Jo Gregson and Pete Smallbones, Paignton Zoo
Amy Plowman, WWCT


Stone, C., Chaiwan, N., Keetman, L., Schapira, C., Gregson, J. and Plowman, A. Behaviour and
spacing of ratites (Struthioniformes) and marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus) housed in single- and mixed-species exhibits in European zoos. Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research (under review)

Plowman, A., Chaiwan, N. and Gregson, J. 2013. Welfare of ratites and marabou stork in mixed mammal/bird exhibits. Animal Keeper’s Forum 40: 218-229

Plowman, A., Chaiwan, N. and Gregson, J. 2013. Welfare of ratites and marabou stork in mixed mammal/bird exhibits. Zoo Research News BIAZA Research Group Newsletter 14.4

Hallager, S., LaGreco, N., Watters, J., Lammers, J., Gregson, J.,Hibbard, C. and Biggs, J. 2010.
Zoos working internationally to save the southern cassowary. Connect Dec 2010: 30-32

Bruslund, S., Gregson J. and Lammers, J. (eds) 2010. EAZA Regional Collection Plan for
Palaeognaths. EAZA Ratite Taxon Advisory Group, EAZA, Amsterdam.

Smallbones, P. 2014. Out and about with ostrich. Managing two male red-necked ostrich at
Paignton Zoo Environmental Park. The Ratite Review 2014: 5

Sutton, T., Lock, J., Smallbones, P. and Plowman, A. 2014. Investigating captive husbandry, diet and behaviour of Pterocnemia pennata pennata (Darwin’s rhea). Improving breeding success and chick survival. Zoo Research News BIAZA Research Group Newsletter 15.3 supplement

Sutton, T., Smallbones, P. and Lock, J. 2014. Investigating the captive husbandry protocols of
Pterocnemia pennata (Darwin’s rhea) in Europe to improve the breeding success and survival rate of chicks. The Ratite Review 2014: 11