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A Guide to the Best of Southern California : PLACES : Ostrich Oasis

December 23, 1990|JANEY MILSTEAD

OSTRICHES ENJOY being petted, though the chances of that are slim. For an adult stands eight feet tall and, lavish lashes notwithstanding, its eyes skewer onlookers with a steely glare. The signs on the pens at the San Diego Ostrich Ranch read: "Beware--We Bite!" But visitors are encouraged to feed the world's largest living birds. "Just be sure to hold your hand very flat," cautions ranch co-owner Margaret Sargent. "Ostriches want to eat everything they see."

No admission is charged to view the ostriches and the emus (the swift-running, flightless Australian birds related to the ostrich) or to pay a visit to the gift shop, a hodgepodge of ostrich objets d'art. The best-selling conversation piece, a whole ostrich eggshell ($12), comes with a stand; hand-painted, hand-carved eggshells also are sold (prices begin at $30). Real ostrich eggs--each of which contain the equivalent of two dozen chicken eggs and closely resemble them in taste--are available (for $30) as well. (You may need help to break the egg: The shell, which is so hard it can be stood upon, must be cracked with an ax.)

Ostrich feathers are sold as single plumes, jewelry, washable dusters in natural and dyed shades, and boas. Feather and shell jewelry prices range from $5 to $100, boas from $50 to $155, and dusters from $3 to $20.

Live versions--in fertile-egg, chick or adult form--can be kept only in areas zoned for agricultural animals. A guaranteed-to-hatch egg runs $1,500; a chick, which grows one foot a month, costs $1,000 per foot, and an adult breeding bird sells for $40,000.

San Diego Ostrich Ranch, on San Pasqual Road two miles off Via Rancho Parkway, Escondido; (619) 741-2546.

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