The Santa Ynez Valley is a long way from Africa’s Serengeti Plain.

So it's something of a surprise to see dozens of ostriches racing around a 33-acre spring-green spread along the Santa Ynez River.

The spindly-legged, long-necked creatures are the big draw at Ostrich Land.

The tourist attraction on Highway 246, a mile east of Buellton, offers an opportunity to go eyeball to tennis-ball-size eyeball with one of nature's strangest, most magnificent birds.

There’s a certain incongruity to the bucolic scene. A couple football fields away, cars whiz by enroute to Solvang.

We held tightly to the handle of the metal dust pan that held a bowl of granular ostrich pellets to feed these truly big birds. Rules are strictly defined on a board at the entrance to the ostrich viewing area. Hey, we didn’t want to get pecked.

The unique black-bodied birds are separated from viewers by a high fence, though they eyed us curiously as we approached.

Setting the pan on a wood platform, we were immediately swarmed by four

ostriches — or maybe they were emus, their tawny, slightly smaller kin — who pecked every last pellet from the bowl in minutes.

We left with smiles on our faces. So did everyone else.

Ostrich Land has 80 ostriches and 20 emus — “give or take,” said Trudy Brown, the owner, dusting a gift shop with a feather duster — with ostrich feathers, of course. The gift shop sells the dusters along with ostrich eggs, ostrich jerky, ostrich meat and the requisite mugs, T-shirts and other items. (Meat comes from other farms, not from local birds.)

Brown explained ostriches may grow to 9 to 10 feet tall, weighing 250 to 350 pounds. Natives of Africa, they're mostly vegetarians but they may eat a few bugs, she said. The nonflying birds can run at speeds up to 45 mph.

And no, they don't bury their heads in the sand.

Ostrich Land is open daily 10 a.m. to dark. Admission is $4 for adults, $1 for children. A bowl of food costs $1 extra.

 Roadside Attractions is a weekly chronicle of sights along the Central Coast’s highways and byways. Sally Cappon can be reached at sjcappon@aol.com.

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