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Ostrich (Struthio camelus)

It is the largest extant bird species, conspicuous due to its long neck and powerful legs. Males sport a black-and-white plumage, while females have a paler gray-brown tone. Small flocks occur in lightly-wooded county habitats, roaming several kilometers each day. While they are flightless, their wings are not useless as they use them for balance, dust-bathing, and striking breeding displays. They produce booming calls, often heard even in long distances.

Read further to know more about the Ostrich.

What is an Ostrich?

Ostrich (Struthio camelus) or the Common Ostrich, is a flightless bird species occurring in large parts of Africa. It is the tallest, largest, and heaviest extant bird, and one of two living members, alongside the Somali Ostrich, that come from the Struthio genus in the ratite order of bird species.

Its seven levels of classification are as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Struthioniformes

Family: Struthionidae

Genus: Struthio

Species: S. camelus

Ostrich Physical Description

Ostriches usually grow from 5.7 to 9.2 feet tall or 2.0 to 2.8 meters and weigh around 63 to 140 kilograms or 139 or 320 pounds. It has a long, bare neck, slender, robust legs, and a huge body covered with feathers. Males have a black-and-white plumage, while females sport a uniformly brownish tone. The feathers are lighter and appear lacy, as they don’t need to be firm compared to flying birds that need feather rigidness for sustained flight.

The head is relatively small, but features the largest eyes among all land mammals, measuring 5 centimeters in diameter, even bigger than the birds’ brain. The eye color is brown, protected by long darkish lashes. Meanwhile, the beak is short and wide.

While they cannot fly, it is compensated by long legs, robust thighs, and sturdy feet, allowing them to run at speeds of more than 70 kilometers per hour. A single stride can cover up to five meters, and as they swiftly move, they hold out their short wings to keep their balance. Their feet are also unique and seemingly-prehistoric as they only have two toes on each foot. The interior toe on each foot is also armed with sharp claws, which they use for self-defense through kicking.

Where can they be spotted?

Ostriches thrive in eastern, western, and southern Africa. They initially roamed all over Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, and Africa, but excessive hunting limited their range now to only sub-Saharan Africa. These birds thieves in semi-arid habitats, such as in savannas, desert, and open woodlands.

Interesting Facts You Should Know About the Ostrich

Ostriches are primarily vegetarian, feeding on leaves, roots, seeds, and flowers. Occasionally, they may also consume lizards, insects, and other smaller creatures. They prefer to forage near grazing animals, such as zebras, antelopes, and wildebeests, as they benefit from each other. The grazing animals disturb the insects, forcing them to come out in ostriches favor, while the ostriches serve as a lookout for possible predators, such as lions.

These birds are too heavy to fly but have evolved to be great runners. Their long, powerful legs allow them to cover a great distance in a single stride and reach up to 70 kilometers per hour in short bursts. Their steady speed is still fast at around 50 kilometers per hour. Such agility enables them to escape much of their predators through running. At one-month-old, ostrich broods can already sprint up to 56 kilometers per hour.

While they can’t fly, their wings are not put into oblivion as it serves them a lot of other purposes, such as for balancing when they run, most importantly as they shift their direction, or for dust-bathing. However, the essential use of their wings is for courtship and displays. These birds show their dominance by lifting their tail and wing feathers while holding their head up high. On the other hand, they show submission by lowering them down.

​Ostriches thrive in groups, which is beneficial for their protection. The more individuals are together; the more likely they are to notice their predators. They usually occur in a group of 10 birds, with an alpha male, an alpha female, and several other females.

During their breeding season, the dominant male creates a nest on the ground, and courts the females through dancing. The display is characterized by swaying of neck and head sideways, shaking his tails and wings, and bending towards the ground.

The alpha female or main hen will lay up to 11 eggs, while the other females lay 2 to 6 eggs all in the communal nest made by the alpha male. The dominant pair will look after the communal nest, which can have up to 60 eggs while taking intervals in the incubation duties. Ostriches lay the largest eggs in the world, measuring 6 inches or 15 centimeters and weighing up to 1.5 kilograms.

Eggs will hatch after 40 days, with the chicks being precocial, all-feathered, and able to walk. In a matter of days, the broods will start to follow their parents that would provide them cover and protect them from the hot sun or rain. Chicks grow fast and reach full-grown height after 18 months and sexual maturity after 3 to 4 years.

Ostriches are currently evaluated as Least Concern (LC) under the IUCN Red List. While they have a wide range, their population size is declining due to habitat loss and hunting for their meat, skin, eggs, fat, and feathers.

WILDLIFE PARKS AND RESERVES WHERE THIS SPECIES IS FOUND:

BOTSWANA

Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Chobe National Park

Linyanti Swamp

Makgadikgadi Pan

Mashatu Game Reserve

Okavango Delta

Moremi Game Reserve

Savute

SOUTH AFRICA

Addo Elephant National Park

Cape Peninsula National Park

Kalahari Gemsbok National Park

Knysna Lagoon

Kruger National Park

Madikwe Game Reserve

NAMIBIA

Caprivi Region

Damaraland

Etosha National Park

Namib-Naukluft National Park

Skeleton Coast

ZAMBIA

Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park

ZIMBABWE

Gona-re-Zhou

Hwange

Lake Kariba

Mana Pools

Matobo Hills

Victoria Falls

 

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