While driving along California State Route 246 on my way to Solvang, Calif., something caught my eye. There, in the rolling hills of California’s central coast, was one tall, no-nonsense bird.
“Josh,” I said to my partner. “Is that … an ostrich?”
Equally unsure, and now a little spooked, we continued to drive. I squinted into the rearview mirror for another bird sighting — or for signs that a film crew was trying to punk me.
Within minutes, we passed the parking lot entrance for OstrichLand USA, the oddest roadside attraction that ever was.
Now, totally suckered in — and forgetting our desire for Solvang’s Danish pastries — we parked and paid the $5 dollar fee that granted us access to OstrichLand’s 50 or so ostriches and emus. We first surveyed the gift shop, which sells kitschy emu and ostrich memorabilia, from feather dusters and T-shirts to emu eggs and ostrich jerky.
The birds here have been raised to be fed by humans, so, for an extra fee, guests can hold out a bowl of food while a pack of ostriches and emus — separated from guests by a fence — battle it out for pellets.
I watched as the birds’ long necks hovered over the bowls before going in for the kill. Direct and steady, they lowered their necks and their beaks followed, much to the joy and fear of the bowl bearers.
While not a fan of zoos, I couldn’t help but be charmed by the ostriches’ resting faces. Sassy and unflinching, they were trying to tell me something.Perhaps: “I can’t believe you fell for this, human.” Or, “bring us back a Danish.”