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Ostrich

(Ostrich, Struthio camelus)

Ostrich

Ungainly bodies perched on long legs, birds unable to fly, ostriches have captivated many a biologist or traveler. Carl Linnaeus described them in his book Systema Naturae, published in 1735. Their flightless condition is counter-balanced by their running speed - about 30-45 mph. They are the fastest two legged creature known.

Description

  • Size: 7 to 9'
  • Weight: 198 to 350lbs (males generally weigh more than females)
  • Large eyes about 2" in diameter
  • Small head with beak
  • Long flexible neck
  • Body round or egg shaped
  • Body covered in brown colored feathers
  • Wings covered in brown feathers
  • Wingspan about 6 ft.
  • Tail
  • Very long, powerful legs
  • Two toes with 4" claw on each foot

OstrichRange & Habitat

Africa and South Australia in grasslands and arid desert regions.

Commercial Purpose

Ostriches are farmed for meat, leather and feathers worldwide. Ostriches are known for being the source of the strongest leather. Their feathers were favored for hats in the 19th century, and are now used for boas, fans and dusters. They also have the best feed-to-weight ratio and the most advanced immune systems known to mankind. This makes them a profitable stock to breed and sell.

Behavior

Ostriches live in flocks of varying numbers, 5 to 40 birds when breeding. The dominant or alpha male leads the flock. There is an alpha hen or female ostrich in each flock. The alpha male normally breeds with the alpha hen, but will also breed with other hens in the flock. In the winter they may travel alone, or in pairs.

While the ostrich will never use its wings to fly, it does use its wings to balance and turn while running. The wings are also used for displays of courtship and dominance. When showing dominance an ostrich will open its wings and lift its head and tail feathers high. The opposite behavior, a drooped head, wings and tail indicates submission.

Predators

Leopards, lions and hyenas are among the predators that hunt the big birds. The ostrich's speed aids its survival. The ostrich is the fastest two-legged animal in the world and can escape many of its predators. The stamina of the ostrich is amazing. It can maintain a speed of 30 miles per hour for up to 30 minutes. In shorter bursts the ostrich can reach a top speed of 45 miles per hour. Another defense is camouflage. Laying its head down on the ground, an ostrich can become almost invisible, appearing as just another part of the landscape. Heat haze in their habitat aids in this illusion. They do not stick their heads in the sand, though due to the match between their coloration and their environment, it may appear that they have done so. When cornered, ostriches defend themselves with their powerful legs. An ostrich can kill a lion by placing a powerful, well-placed kick with its legs.

Diet

The ostrich is an omnivor. It feeds on grass, seeds, insects and vertebrates. The food is collected in the “crop” at the top of the throat until there is a significant enough sized lump of food to slide down the long neck into the stomach. The ostrich eats whatever it can find in its environment. Their intestines can handle a lot of things that other animals can’t digest. Small stones, sands and pebbles, known as gastroliths, are consumed and used to grind up food in their gizzard. Water is obtained through the food eaten by the ostrich, but when they encounter a water hole they will drink. Otherwise the ostrich does not need to drink. The body temperature on the ostrich varies and can be adjusted to a higher temp on hotter days to reduce water loss from their bodies.

Life Cycle

Baby ostriches grow as much as 11 inches per month in their first few months of life. Average lifespan is 30 to 40 years in the wild. Each fertile hen can lay up to 20 eggs in a clutch with an incubation period of approximately 40 days. The hens place their eggs in the nest of the alpha hen and she works in tandem with the alpha male to incubate the eggs, though she may discard eggs of less dominant females. The eggs, the largest known of any bird, weigh about 3 lbs each and are about 6 x 5 inches.

Interesting Facts

  • Ostriches cannot fly
  • Ostriches are the largest bird in the world
  • Ostrich skeletons and fossils date back 120 million years making the ostrich a dinosaur
  • Ostrich leather is the strongest leather available in the world
  • The ostrich is the second fastest animal in the world and the fasted 2-legged animal in the world
  • The ostrich can run up to a speed of 45 miles an hour
  • An adult ostrich has the most advanced immune system known to mankind
  • The ostrich has the largest eye of animals who live on the land
  • Good swimmers, slow, only their head and necks above water. Will go into water to cool down on hot days
  • Ostriches don’t need to drink water

 

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