Common Ostrich Fact File
The Ostrich is the world’s largest bird. Males stand 2.1-2.8m (6ft 11in-9ft 2in) tall with females being slightly shorter at 1.7-2m (5ft 7in-6ft 7in) tall. Weights range from 63-145kg (139-320lb).
Male ostriches have black body feathers with small wings and a tail that are covered with white feathers. Females and juveniles are greyish brown where the males are black. Males have a blue-grey, pink or grey neck while in females it is a pinkish brown. The beak is pink and measures 12-14.3cm (4.7-5.6in). Around the eyes are long eyelashes.
Ostrich’s toes feature just two toes as opposed to the average four which most birds possess. They have the largest eyes of any land vertebrate at 50mm (2in) in diameter.
When they first ingest food it sits at the top of the mouth until it forms a lump which can slide down the throat. Once it is swallowed it goes into the gizzard. Here they store stones, sand and pebbles which they ingest to break down their food.
Most of the ostriches water need is fulfilled by their food. They are also able to lost 25% of their body weight through dehydration and still survive. When it is available they will drink liquid water.
Males 2.1-2.8m (6ft 11in-9ft 2in)
Females – 1.7-2m (5ft 7in-6ft 7in)
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Ostrich’s hail from Africa. Here they can be found throughout most of the Southern and Central areas of the continent. They were formerly found in the Middle East as well.
They make their home in savanna, sahel and desert regions.
Breeding season begins in March and ends in September for Ostriches. The male will boom (a noise they can produce) as a means of scaring males away from their harem of females. He will mate with several females but only form a bond with what is known as the ‘major’ female.
The male uses a series of wing beats to attract a mate. Once he attracts a female they graze together until they are in time. He will then excitedly flap his wings and poke the ground with his beak. Following this he clears a nest in the soil by violently flapping his wings. The female then runs around him with lowered wings before dropping to the ground and preparing for mating.
Following the mating the females will lay their eggs in a single communal nest which is a simple pit scraped in the ground by the male. This nest is about 30-60cm (12-24in) deep and 3m (9.8ft) wide. The first eggs are laid by the dominant female. She then removes eggs laid by less dominant females. Ostrich’s lay the largest eggs of any bird species. They are glossy and cream coloured with small pits in the thick shell.
During the day the female guards the nest and at night the male takes over. This means that they are camouflaged the females with the sand and the males with the dark of night. 35 to 45 days later the eggs hatch. This is quite a short incubation time as they have a high rate of predation. At birth the young ostriches are a fawn colour with brown spots and stiff, spiky down.
Males seem to do most of the raising of the chicks along with teaching them to feed. The female also participates in rearing the chicks though. Only 15% of chicks make it to 1 year of age.
Sexually maturity is achieved between 2 and 4 years of age it is not until this time that they develop adult colouration.
Predators of the ostrich include cheetahs, lions, leopards, hunting dogs and hyenas. Young ostrich can also be taken by birds of prey, warthog, jackals, mongoose and Egyptian vultures. Parents may protect their chicks by faking an injury and making predators go after them. Their kick is capable of killing many animals. They can also outrun a large number of their predators. They can reach sppeds up to 70km/h (43 mph) for a short time and can maintain a speed of 50km/h (31mph) over a long distance.
They are mostly a diurnal species meaning they are awake during the day. On nights with lots of moonlight they may choose to be active.
Ostriches form groups of between 5 and 100 birds led by a female during dry spells and the breeding seasons. During this time they may travel with zebra or antelope. Over winter they prefer to be solitary or roam in pairs.
Ostriches run with their wings out to help with balance while they are running.
There are four subspecies of ostrich with one of these being extinct. Another subspecies known as the Somali ostrich was granted species status in 2014.
Ostriches are farmed for their feathers, leather and meat. Their feathers have been used for over 100 years for feather dusters.
Ostriches have been used for racing both on their backs and using carriages.
Their scientific name Struthio camelus means camel like and refers to their long neck, large eyelashes and jolting walk.
It’s a myth that ostriches bury their heads in the sand. It is believed this myth began with Pliny the elder who once wrote that ostriches “imagine, when they have thrust their head and neck into a bush, that the whole of their body is concealed.” Which is believed to have been a misinterpretation of them swallowing sand and pebbles.
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BirdLife International 2018. Struthio camelus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T45020636A132189458. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T45020636A132189458.en. Downloaded on 20 April 2020.