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Ostrich Fact File

Struthio camelus

Credit: Copyright. The Animal Facts.

Weight

63-145kg

(139-320lbs)

Height

1.7-2.8m

(5.6-9.2ft)

Lifespan

Wild 45 years

Captive 45 years

Diet

Omnivorous

Grass, Seeds, Insects

Conservation Status

IUCN

Least Concern

The World's Largest Bird!

The ostrich is the world's largest species of bird with males reaching heights of up to 2.8m (9.2ft) tall. Females are slightly smaller than the males.

Ostriches will swallow sand and stones. These are used to help grind up the food in their stomach. It is thought that the legend that ostriches bury their head in the sand comes from them reaching down to swallow these items.

Males and females work together to raise their chicks. Females sit on the nest during the day when their brown feathers blend with the sand while males sit at night when their black feathers blend with the night sky.

While the ostrich is common and large numbers are kept for farming they are suffering a decline in their natural habitat from habitat loss and they have gone extinct in Libya.

Read on to learn more about these brilliant birds.

Appearance

What does the Ostrich look like?

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.

Adaptations

How does the Ostrich survive in its habitat?


The coloration of the male and female is helpful when raising chicks. Males will sit on the nest at night when their black feathers blend with the night sky and females sit during the day when they blend with the sand.

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Diet

What does the Ostrich eat?

The ostrich is an omnivore. They feed on roots, grasses, seeds, leaves, flowers, invertebrates, small lizards, snakes and rodents.

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.

Learn more about the Ostrich in this video from Nature on PBS on YouTube

Range

Where do you find the Ostrich?

Africa is the native home of the ostrich. 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 the following countries – Algeria; Angola; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Djibouti; Egypt; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Kenya; Mali; Mauritania; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Senegal; South Africa; South Sudan; Sudan; Tanzania; Uganda; Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The species is considered extinct in Libya.

A small introduced population is found in Australia following releases from ostrich farms.

Habitat

Where can the Ostrich survive?

They make their home in savanna, sahel and desert regions.

Ostrich (Struthio camelus)

Credit: Copyright. The Animal Facts.

Reproduction

How does the Ostrich produce its young?

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.

Ostriches lay the largest eggs of any bird species. They are glossy and cream colored 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 color 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 coloration.

Behavior

What does the Ostrich do during its day?

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.

They can reach speeds up to 70km/h (43 mph) for a short time and can maintain a speed of 50km/h (31mph) over a long distance.

Ostrich (Struthio camelus)

Credit: Under License

Predators and Threats

What stops the Ostrich from surviving and thriving?

Natural predators of the ostrich include cheetahs, lions, leopards, hunting dogs and hyenas. Young ostrich may 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.

Despite being a highly common species the ostrich is suffering a decline.

Much of this decline is attributed to habitat loss.

Ostriches are farmed for their feathers, leather and meat. Their feathers have been used for over 100 years for feather dusters.

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Quick facts

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 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.

Ostrich (Struthio camelus)

Credit: Copyright. The Animal Facts.

References

BirdLife International. 2018. Struthio camelusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T45020636A132189458. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T45020636A132189458.en. Accessed on 02 February 2022.

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Credit: Under License

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