One of the most iconic species of Australia, kangaroos are known for their impressive stature and unique, hopping gait. They can often be spotted in forests and grasslands doing what they do best — eating! That’s right, these hungry little hoppers spend most of their day grazing. But, what do they eat? Let’s take a look!
Kangaroos are herbivores, they keep that pep in their step, or should we say hop, through the power of plants!
Kangaroos eat a variety of plant foods, including:
Healthy adult kangaroos graze for 6 to 10 hours a day. In order to properly digest all these heavily fibrous plants, kangaroos have a chambered stomach. Similar to that of other grazing animals like cows, sheep, and deer.
Since plants are typically full of moisture, the kangaroo's diet also helps keep them hydrated. They can go for long periods of time without consuming water, several days, weeks, and in some cases even months! For desert-dwelling kangaroos, this feat has been integral to their survival.
Kangaroos are considered a keystone species, they have a mutually beneficial relationship with their environment. By grazing on vegetation, kangaroos help regenerate the forests and grasslands. They play a vital role in seed germination, fertilization, and of course, trimming the plants with all their nibbling! These actions all result in healthy plant growth and help reduce the amount of dry brush that may accumulate, potentially reducing the spread of wildfires. It is believed that without kangaroos, several other native species wouldn’t survive, including another beloved Australian species, the koala.
Diet Variations Between Kangaroo Species
Like all animals, the kangaroo's diet is highly location-dependent. Kangaroos with access to lush pastures will spend all day grazing, while kangaroos in the forest will help themselves to leaves, fruits, seeds, and any other edible plants they can get their paws on. In the dry, dusty Outback, kangaroos may have to travel quite a ways to graze on whatever shrubs they can find.
The Western grey kangaroo most often consumes grasses, shrubs, and leaves, which is what’s most prominently available in their open grassland habitats. The Eastern grey kangaroo also consumes plenty of grass but also has more access to woodlands where they’ll eat fruit, bark, nuts, and seeds.
The red kangaroo, which occupies more of the deserts and shrublands, will consume more shrubs and forbs, in addition to whatever grass they can find. The antilopine kangaroo, which is found in more tropical areas, will eat lots of grasses, fruits, and ferns.
Where Do Kangaroos Find Food?
Kangaroos roam open grasslands, forests, and scrublands across Australia. They will graze and forage wherever they can find food. For most kangaroos, they don’t have to stray too far from their native habitat, but during the dry season, some will have to travel quite a ways.
They are also highly adaptable animals and opportunistic feeders. This also means they are not shy about “stealing” if the opportunity presents itself. Occasionally kangaroos will raid crops, most notably corn. They’ll also go for animal feed left outside if it’s within easy reach. This sometimes leads to conflicts with farmers.
Kangaroos are always down for an easy meal, unfortunately, this has led to disastrous consequences for both humans and kangaroos. Although it’s forbidden, tourists in certain areas have taken to feeding kangaroos for photo ops. This has led to aggressive interactions and injuries. It’s also not ideal for kangaroos to eat so many things outside of their normal diet. The tourists have been observed offering the kangaroos anything and everything, including chips, cookies, and even McDonald’s! Tourists feeding kangaroos in Australia has become quite an issue.
Is it Ever OK for Humans to Feed Kangaroos?
Normally, humans feeding kangaroos is a big no-no! It’s bad for the kangaroos and dangerous for the people. The only exception to this was in 2020, when bushfires ravaged over 15 million acres in Australia. Sadly, many humans and animals lost their lives. After the wildfires were out, Australia’s wildlife faced another problem, a food shortage. Local wildlife officials and rescue organizations asked for the public's help in providing food to hungry wildlife, including the devastated kangaroo population.
An army of volunteers organized to leave pellets, fruits, and vegetables throughout the areas destroyed by wildfire. In some areas, food was even dropped from helicopters. Citizens were encouraged to save their kitchen scraps, and local grocery stores donated tons of produce to the cause. Everyone came together to help. Of course, no one was encouraged to approach kangaroos, only to scatter some food in areas affected by the fires.
While desperate times called for desperate measures, today, the forests are recovering, and the kangaroos and other wildlife no longer need human intervention to find food. It’s still advised to never approach or try to feed a kangaroo, for their safety and yours!