Ostrich

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Profile

The ostrich is an extremely large bird living in Africa, but chances are you probably already knew this. They are also flightless, but you probably know this also. What you may not know is that the ostrich has just two toes on each foot. In fact, it is the only bird that has so few toes! Male ostriches have much different plumage than the females do. The males, as pictured above, have black bodies with white tails and white upper legs. They also have a small white stripe in between their black body and pink neck. Females, as shown below, are much duller than the males. They are almost completely brown, with even their neck being covered in small brown feathers. Their entire body is also covered in brown feathers, and there are no white marking either. This coloration is a means of defense. The females usually guard the nest and stay low to the ground while they do it. In a savanna covered in brown grass, it is a lot harder to spot a brown mass on the ground than a black mass on the ground.

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Contrary to popular belief, ostriches do not bury their heads in the ground. This belief probably started due to their habit to lie on the ground when threatened. They then press their necks and heads against the ground, but the sandy color of their head makes it look like it is buried in the ground.

Size

If ostriches were famous for just one reason it would probably be that they are the largest birds in the world. It would be hard for there to be a much larger bird than this given that the ostrich can be up to 9 feet (2.7 m) tall. Only the adult males are ever this tall, and they are usually in between this height and 7 feet (2.1 m). The females are smaller, with the adults ranging between 5.7 and 6.2 feet (1.7-1.9 m). Since ostriches do not fly, they do not need to be very light like other birds are. That’s a good thing because they are quite the opposite of light. Males weigh in between 220 and 340 pounds (100-156 kg). Females, while they are lighter, are still quite heavy for birds. They are usually between 200 and 240 pounds (90-110 kg).

Ostriches also have large eyes. They can measure up to two inches (5 cm) across! This is the largest eye of all land animals!

Diet

Rather surprising for a bird this large is that the ostrich eats mostly vegetation. Their diet consists mainly of grass, seeds, leaves, flowers, and fruits. The last three, which often contain more moisture, are particularly important in drier areas. Sometimes insects, such as locusts, as well as various vertebrates will be eaten as well. Due to their large size, ostriches need to eat a lot of food. In captivity, the adults are often fed almost eight pounds (3.6 kg) of food each day! because they live in a dry environment, these birds were also created with the ability to go without water for long periods of time.

Habitat and range

Ostriches currently live in much of Africa south of the Sahara Desert. They have also been introduced in parts of Southern Australia. The western part of central Africa is not populated by ostriches as it is covered by forests, which is not the habitat these birds live in. As you can see in both of the pictures above, ostriches usually live in dry savannas. This helps them as they can hide in the grass, and the females are camouflaged well in the grass as I mentioned above.

Status and threats

The ostrich is classified as least concern on the IUCN Redlist despite not being nearly as common as they used to be. In the early 20th century, these birds lived in the Arabian peninsula as well as south-western Asia. Ostrich feathers used to be in high demand, so during the 1700’s ostriches were almost wiped out from hunting. During the next century, farmers started raising these birds in captivity so their feathers could be plucked without having to hunt and kill the bird first. This, along with the fact that ostrich feathers are not as needed anymore has made their wild population increase to a stable amount. There are few if any natural predators of the ostrich due in part to their large size.

Protection

Ostriches do have two main defenses in case a predator decides it can tackle the world’s largest bird. Both of these methods involve their legs. As I mentioned earlier, the ostrich has only two toes on each foot. One of these toes has a four-inch (10 cm) long claw on the end of it. This, combined with the kicking ability of the ostrich’s legs makes for a formidable weapon that can kill a lion with one blow! In case they are not in the right position to kick, these birds can run very fast. They have been clocked going up to 43 miles (70 km) per hour in a sprint, making them the fastest running birds! They can also maintain a speed of 31 miles (50 km) per hour for about half an hour. Although they cannot fly, an ostrich’s wings are useful. They use them while running to keep their balance or change directions quickly. Even the young can escape some predators by running, as they are known to be able to run 35 miles (56 km) per hour by the time they are just a month old!

Reproduction

Ostrich breeding groups consist of one male and multiple females. One of the females is the “major” hen while the others are “minor” hens. At the start of the breeding season, the male digs a nest in the ground and then performs a mating ritual to attract females to his nest. This ritual includes shaking the wings, tail, and head as well as puffing out his neck. After mating, the main female lays about eleven eggs, while the “minor” females lay only two to six eggs each. All of the eggs are laid in the same nest.

Ostriches, along with being the largest birds in the world also lay the largest eggs in the world. One egg is usually about 6.3 inches (16 cm) long and weighs 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg). They also have very thick shells. A normal chicken egg has a shell that is just .3 mm thick (about the thickness of a playing card) while an ostrich egg shell is about 2 mm thick. This is about the thickness of eight playing cards!

The eggs incubate for between 42 and 46 days after they are laid. The adults defend the young fearlessly, attacking any potential predators. Young ostriches are covered in fluff like most birds are, but they grow their real feathers after 4 to 5 months. It takes just one and a half years total for them to reach their adult size. They are able to mate for the first time at three to four years of age, and they have been known to live up to 40 years.

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Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Ostrich – Nicor
  • Female ostrich – Nevit Dilmen
  • Mystery animal – Public Domain
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