A mother and joey flee from dingoes

Kangaroo Mothers and Their Joeys


Kangaroo mothers and their joeys are very close. By watching their mothers, joeys learn how to graze, groom themselves, and look out for danger. And they copy almost everything she does. Although kangaroos are basically quiet animals, mothers and joeys often communicate by clucking to each other.

When it’s roughly six months old, a joey leaves the pouch for the first time—usually by accident. The youngster may fall out when its mother is cleaning her pouch, or when it leans out of the pouch to graze. At about eight to ten months, the joey outgrows the pouch for good. But it still pokes its head in from time to time for a drink of milk. It stays at its mother’s side until it is about 1½ years old and can fend for itself.

Young kangaroos love to wrestle with their mothers. They push at her with their front paws and sometimes use their hind feet to try to knock her off balance. Play fighting helps the youngsters learn skills they will need when they grow up.

To get back into the pouch, a joey grips the rim with its forepaws. It dives in headfirst, somersaulting until it is head up again. Then the joey twists around to face out, with its forearms resting on the rim of the pouch.

Wallaby joeys are favorite targets of wedge-tailed eagles. Often hunting in pairs, one eagle drops down and stuns the victim, knocking it off balance. Then the second eagle swoops down, grabs the dazed joey with its strong talons, and lifts it away.

When chased by Australian wild dogs—called dingoes—a mother kangaroo will leap away with her joey in her pouch. Sometimes, in mid-flight, she releases the joey into tall grass or bushes. Carrying less weight helps the mother hop faster and escape more easily. It may also save the joey’s life, in case she does get caught.

A kangaroo joey grazes while leaning out of mom's pouchFrom the pouch, a joey can explore the world safely. It can reach out and sniff objects. And it can pick up grass and try to eat it. Later on, the mother will have to show her joey which grasses to eat. Until it is able to graze on its own, the baby kangaroo’s main food is its mother’s milk.