Chandler Ostrich Festival
Feathers flying, birds screeching, and handlers in cowboy hats trying to keep things under control as a massive dirt cloud rises over the track. Then, from out of the cloud runs the ostrich, ten feet tall and 400 pounds, heading straight towards the crowd ready to take out an innocent bystander. No, this isn’t a circus stampede, this is the ostrich races at the Chandler Ostrich Festival, the one place where you can eat an ostrich burger while watching them run around a track at the same time.
The Ostrich Festival is an bizarre but thrilling festival and has been recognized in several publications as a must see event, as well as featured on Travel Channel’s, Bert the Conqueror. It began in 1989 and now attracts between 250,000 and 350,000 people a year.
It is a rousing event full of a hodgepodge of attractions that are not just ostrich exclusive. You’ll also be welcomed into deep fried carnival food Heaven with an endless array of choices between funnel cakes, curly fries, roasted corn, and that colorfully addictive, pure sugar substance - cotton candy.
The Best of the Ostrich Festival
Bareback Ostrich Races: This is the highlight of the festival as trained world famous riders attempt to mount the backs of the ostriches in a haphazard effort to race around the track. Very few are successful, and most don’t make it five feet out of the gate before being launched off backwards by the bucking birds.
Chariot Ostrich Races: Separate from the bareback races are the ostrich chariot races. At first glance, these would seem easier to make it to the finish line, but then you come to realize how flimsy and rickety the rider’s carts are, and most of the birds manage to detach themselves from the chariots, creating an action packed, near race to the death, around the track. The chariot-less riders are left behind to pick up the pieces, or even drag their carts all the way back to the starting line.
Donkey Races: Imagine trying to get one of the most stubborn animals in the world to race around a track. It’s no easy task, and this race creates a lot of heart racing anticipation as you sit watching for 30 seconds before they take off, wondering if they are ever going to move. But once they do, it’s no telling where they’ll end up with dirt flying everywhere and riders holding on by sheer luck. It all happens so fast it’s a gray furry blur.
Exotic Bird Show: This Las Vegas headlining show features all the glitz, glamour, and feathers of a Vegas show girl, minus all the skin but just as loud and entertaining. The show promotes advocacy for endangered birds such as the condor, while enticing the audience with the cotton candy hued parakeet, and translucent rainbow head of the cassowary.
Petting Zoo: With all of their little heads poking out of the fences waiting to nibble food out of your hands, there can’t be a better place to take kids. If you’re still a kid at heart, you’ll love going into the petting zoo’s tent. It’s always full of commotion and children petting the fuzzy snouts of little goats that are so cute it’s hard believe they could eat your whole car.
Music Shows: One of the great things about this festival is that is showcases talent from around the area that appeals to a variety of age groups. If your heart lies with the 80’s rock, then experiencing Journey Unauthorized is a must, and your heart will be thumping with delight to the sound of “A singer in a smoky room. A smell of wine and cheap perfume.”
Food: An ostrich burger is a must have, if not for the taste, at least for the experience. There are several tents that offer this festival specialty. The burger has a hint of a gamy wholesome taste, similar to elk, and you don’t need a bunch of toppings to make it mouth wateringly delicious (though the grilled onions are a must). Not only is it tasty, ostrich meat is one of the healthier selections you can make, even better than chicken.
Merchandise: To not take a souvenir home from this festival would be shameful. Not the usual dime a dozen trinkets that can be bought at a Dollar Store, take home something like a vibrant multicolored ostrich feather duster, feather head-band, or ostrich leather bracelet. It’s things like that, which really make a special occasion memorable, not the glow in the dark swords.
No one, neither bird or person, ended up being harmed during the races. Not to say there weren’t a couple close calls involving an ostrich and a small child, but you’ll just have to go to next year’s festival to see for yourself.
Ostrich Festival Gallery