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Red Kangaroo (Macropus rufus) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

Red Kangaroo (Macropus rufus)


  • Primarily grazers, consuming grasses and other annual plants (Griffiths & Barker 1966; Dawson et al. 1975; Hume 1999):
    • In wet season, diet shifts to nearly 55% forbs (Dawson & Ellis 1994)
    • In drier seasons, shrubs eaten
    • In severe drought, grass was 87-91% of diet
    • In absence of grass, plants in goosefoot family (Chenopodiaceae) consumed (Bailey et al. 1971)
  • Wild kangaroos eat (in New South Wales) (Croft 1981):
    • Fat-leafed saltbush (Atriplex vesicaria) makes up about 57% of diet (wet weight)
    • Round-leafed saltbush, Bassia about 12%
    • Grasses about 31% of diet (Enneapggon and Dicanthium)


  • Travel to areas of good grazing in response to storms as far away as 10-20 km (6-12 mi) (Bailey 1971; Newsome 1975)
  • After good rains, kangaroos abandon open grassy areas, even though food is abundant (Newsome 1997)
    • Open plains with water provided by cattle ranchers are a new landscape feature that helps kangaroos withstand droughts
    • When rains return, kangaroos revert to favored habitats with shade trees
  • Foregut fermenters (Hume 1982) (Hume 1999)
    • A tube-shaped fore stomach helps digest fibrous vegetation (Munn & Dawson 2003)
    • The kangaroo's stomach is most like the colon of a horse; not as similar to a ruminant's stomach
    • Can digest fibrous plant material, unpalatable even to goats
      • This ability to utilize high fiber diets is shared by colon fermenters such as horses
  • Adult red kangaroos have a resting metabolism that is only 70% of that of a sheep (Munn & Dawson 2003)
  • Much interest by ranchers and biologists as to whether kangaroos compete with cattle and sheep for forage
    • In times of drought, red kangaroos take plant species preferred by sheep (Edwards et al. 1995)
      • This forces sheep to switch to chenopods; not known if this affects sheep fitness
    • Even in times of drought, red kangaroos compete little with cattle (Dudzinski et al. 1982)
  • In a study comparing feeding biology of red kangaroos and sheep (Munn et al. 2010):
    • Kangaroos ate fewer kinds of plants than sheep
    • Kangaroos required only 13% of the water required by sheep

Page Citations

Bailey et al. (1971)
Bailey (1971)
Croft (1981)
Dawson et al. (1975)
Dawson & Ellis (1994, 1996)
Dudzinski et al. (1982)
Edwards et al. (1995)
Griffiths & Barker (1966)
Hume (1982, 1999)
Munn & Dawson (2003)
Munn et al. (2010)
Newsome (1975)

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