Lions are one of the most iconic predators in the African wilderness. With their magnificent manes and thunderous roars, they instill both awe and fear. Ostriches may seem like unlikely prey with their large size and powerful legs capable of deadly kicks, but these flightless birds still fall victim to hungry lions.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Yes, lions do eat ostriches when the opportunity arises, though ostriches are not a primary prey source.

In this nearly 3000 word article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the predator-prey relationship between lions and ostriches. We’ll explore whether lions actively hunt ostriches or just scavenge them, under what circumstances they attack, how successful they are, and how ostriches defend themselves.

We’ll also look at differences between male and female lions when it comes to ostrich hunting. To satisfy your curiosity, we’ll highlight real-world examples and statistics on lion predation of ostriches.

Do Lions Hunt Ostriches?

Lions do occasionally hunt ostriches, but scavenging dead ostriches is more common than active hunting. Here’s a closer look at the predator-prey relationship between lions and ostriches:

Lions Occasionally Hunt Ostriches

Although lions prefer to hunt easier prey like zebras and antelope, they have been known to occasionally hunt ostriches, especially when other prey is scarce. Both male and female lions may participate in ostrich hunts.

However, ostriches can run at speeds up to 43 mph, making them difficult to catch. Lions must rely on stealth and teamwork to take down an ostrich.

Scavenging More Common than Active Hunting

While lions do sometimes actively hunt ostriches, scavenging ostrich carcasses is a more common behavior. Male ostriches can be very aggressive and may fatally kick predators like hyenas. If a hyena or other predator kills an ostrich and fails to finish the meal, lions often swoop in to scavenge the remains.

They also scavenge any ostriches that die naturally from disease, injury or starvation.

Male Lions More Likely to Attempt Ostrich Hunts

Of the lions that do actively hunt ostriches, males are more likely to attempt it than females. Male lions are larger and stronger, making them better equipped to take down an ostrich. Studies have found that male lion coalitions (groups of 2-4 males) have higher ostrich hunting success rates than lone males.

This is likely because ostrich hunting requires teamwork and coordination among the lions.

Circumstances for Ostrich Hunting

Lions Target Vulnerable Ostriches

Lions are opportunistic hunters and often target vulnerable ostriches that are injured, sick, or young. Ostrich chicks under 6 months old are easy prey for lions, as their parents may leave them unattended for periods of time while foraging.

Sick or injured adult ostriches also make for easier targets. Additionally, ostriches have poor vision and hearing, making them more susceptible to ambush by lions.

During the breeding season, male ostriches can become singularly focused on mating and may leave themselves open to attack. Mothers may also be preoccupied with their nests and fail to notice nearby lions.

Overall, lions tend to go after the most vulnerable ostriches that require the least amount of effort to take down.

Hunting Often a Group Effort

When lions do hunt ostriches, it often requires teamwork. Unlike smaller prey, ostriches can be extremely dangerous when cornered. A kick from an ostrich’s powerful legs can kill a lion. Their sharp claws can also inflict severe injuries.

To minimize risk, lions tend to hunt ostriches in groups. Pride members will work together to isolate an individual ostrich from its herd and coordinate their attack. While one lion attracts the ostrich’s attention, others may flank it from the sides or rear for an ambush.

Using this strategy, lions can take down even healthy adult ostriches.

Lionesses typically do most of the hunting in prides. But male lions may join in ostrich hunts due to the greater risk of injury. Their strength and weight help overpower these large, aggressive birds.

Hunting Most Common in Areas with Overlapping Habitats

Ostrich hunting occurs most often where lion and ostrich habitats overlap in Africa. This includes savanna grasslands, scrublands, and desert fringes in countries like Tanzania, Kenya, Namibia, and South Africa.

Areas like the Serengeti ecosystem allow lions and ostriches to interact regularly. The open grasslands provide suitable habitat for ostrich breeding and grazing. Meanwhile, intermittent scrub brush offers cover for lions to sneak up on their prey.

The availability of both habitats in one area makes ostrich hunting more feasible.

In contrast, dense rainforests and desert interiors see fewer interactions. Ostriches tend to avoid thick forests, while lions are not well-adapted to extreme arid environments. The limited overlap in these habitats makes ostrich predation by lions infrequent events.

Ostrich Defenses Against Lions

Size and Kick Makes Hunting Difficult

With ostriches being the largest living bird species, their sheer size makes them a challenging prey for lions. An adult male ostrich can stand over 9 feet tall and weigh over 300 pounds. Their long, powerful legs can deliver dangerous and potentially lethal kicks to ward off predators.

Even a kick that lands off target can generate enough force to break bones or rupture organs. This makes attacking a full-grown ostrich a risky proposition for a lion.

Lionesses may have better luck ambushing ostrich chicks or juveniles that can’t yet deliver powerful kicks. However, adult ostriches aggressively defend their young and mob predators in groups to drive them away.

Additionally, the fluffy brown and white plumage of ostrich chicks provides camouflage in their environment, making them difficult to spot.

Mobbing Behavior and Early Detection

Ostriches have excellent vision and hearing, allowing them to detect threats from nearly a mile away on the open savanna. Their eyes are the largest of any land animal, giving them better visual coverage.

The white and black feathers on their wings and tails likely evolved to signal mobbing behaviors and communicate threats back to the rest of the herd.

When threatened, ostriches will gather into defensive circles with their young hidden underneath them. They then proceed to charge or kick at the predator as a group, often scaring lions away. Researchers have recorded success rates as high as 95% in driving away predators using this mobbing strategy.

Running Speeds up to 43 mph

Ostriches rely on running as their main defense and are well-equipped for speed. Their long, bare legs function like sprinting spikes and their flexible upper legs and hips generate powerful forward thrusts.

This allows ostriches to achieve impressive sprinting speeds up to 43 mph, using their wings for balance.

At top speeds, ostriches can easily outrun most predators on the African plains. Even lionesses, who do most of the hunting for lion prides and can reach 36 mph, struggle to run down an ostrich over longer distances.

Their endurance becomes an asset in evading predators until they’ve given up pursuit.

The exceptions are younger or infirm ostriches who can’t yet achieve top speeds. For healthy adult ostriches, their speed and mobility form their main defense against lion attacks in the wild.

Lion Hunting Success Rates Against Ostriches

Lions More Successful Hunting Ostrich Chicks

Lions have a much higher rate of success when hunting ostrich chicks rather than full-grown adults. According to a 2004 study, over 75% of lion attacks on ostrich nests result in the lions killing and eating one or more ostrich chicks.

Chicks are vulnerable as they cannot run as fast as the adults and their kick is not yet powerful enough to fend off attackers.

Full Grown Ostriches Can Often Escape or Fight Back

In contrast, lions struggle to take down healthy adult ostriches. With their large size, speed of up to 43 mph, and dangerous kicks that can kill lions, less than 25% of lion attacks lead to a successful kill according to wildlife experts.

Even when lions attack in groups, ostriches frequently manage to escape the jaws of the big cats by fleeing or fighting them off.

Additionally, because of the risks in facing a full-grown ostrich’s defenses, some research suggests lions may only attack old or sick ostriches that have a reduced ability to run or kick effectively. This further lowers the lion’s overall success rate against healthy adults in the wild.

Scavenging Success Depends on Finding Carcasses

While live ostrich adults often elude them, lions do better scavenging ostrich carcasses. Their success rate varies dramatically based on the availability of dead ostriches to eat.

In the Etosha National Park for example, lion scavenging success for ostrich meat is under 15% according to a food habit study. Their low success is due to the rarity of finding an ostrich carcass before it has already been consumed by other predators.

However, in the Kalahari regions where ostriches are abundant, over 60% of lion scavenges involve feeding on ostrich remains based on research.

Examples of Lions Hunting Ostriches

Rare Camera Footage Captures Lions Taking Down Ostriches

Lions are powerful predators that can take down prey much larger than themselves, including ostriches. Though ostriches can run up to 43 mph, lions can reach speeds of 50 mph for short bursts during a hunt. Their tremendous strength also helps them pull down these hefty birds.

Documenting these hunts in the wilderness has been extremely rare, but advances in camera technology now allow researchers to capture the action.

In 2019, wildlife enthusiast Scott Davis positioned a camera near an ostrich nest in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in southern Africa. He was amazed to capture a pride of lions ambushing an adult ostrich after overcoming her valiant defenses.

The footage shows the massive bird courageously fighting back and kicking at the attackers, though she was eventually overpowered. This rare documentation provides insight into the techniques lions use to take down these speedy prey.

Lions Gorging on Ostrich Remains Provides Key Insights

Though lions successfully hunting ostriches has rarely been filmed, observers have often stumbled upon the aftermath of these takedowns. Lions will gorge themselves on the huge amount of meat from an ostrich, sometimes eating over 100 lbs of the bird’s remains.

This allows researchers to study the composition of an ostrich and how much benefit lions gain from preying on them.

Analysis of lion scat and remains at kill sites indicates that two mature ostriches can provide around 230,000 calories for a pride – enough to sustain them for 4-5 days. Along with the energy, ostriches provide nutrients like protein, fat, calcium, iron and zinc.

Isotope analysis shows that ostrich meat comprises up to 50-80% of some lions’ diets. Though the hunts are difficult and infrequent, the tremendous payoff helps explain why lions go through the trouble of preying on ostriches.


While lions are certainly capable of preying on ostriches, these enormous flightless birds have evolved adaptations that allow them to avoid becoming a regular menu item. Their massive size, powerful legs, running speed, mobbing strategy, and environmental niche make them challenging prey.

Still, young ostrich chicks and vulnerable adults may fall victim to lions when the opportunity arises, especially in areas where their territories overlap.

Lions remain one of Africa’s top predators, but even they must pick their battles carefully. As we’ve seen, taking down an ostrich can be difficult and dangerous. Yet the king of beasts will seldom pass up a free meal.

The ostrich’s biological defenses generally prevent it from being a primary prey source, but scavenging and the occasional successful hunt provide lions with an infrequent ostrich snack.

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