The Ostrich is the largest and heaviest known living bird on Earth. It roams African savanna and desert lands and grazes among Giraffes, Zebras, Wildebeest, and Gazelles. The ostrich is distinctive in its appearance, with a long bare neck and legs that help it to run at up to about 70 km/h (the fastest land speed of any bird). It has also loose, soft, and smooth feathers which is black with white primaries and tail in males and grey brown with white primaries in females. Ostriches have just two toes on each foot (most birds have four), with the nail on the larger, inner toe resembling a hoof. They are known to be powerful kickers; kicks can kill a human or a potential predator like a Lion. Ostriches have also the largest eyes of any terrestrial animal, with a diameter of 50 mm.
They usually weigh from 63 to 145 kilograms according to the subspecies. At sexual maturity (two to four years), male ostriches can be from 2.1 to 2.8 m in height, while female ostriches range from 1.7 to 2.0 m tall. Ostriches normally spend the winter months in pairs or alone but during breeding season or extreme rainless periods they live in nomadic groups of five to 100 birds that often travel together with other grazing animals. The groups have a pecking order, with a dominant male that establishes and defends a territory, a dominant female called the “main hen,” and several other females. Lone males may also come and go during breeding season. All of the group’s hens place their eggs in the dominant hen’s 3m-wide nest, though her own are given the prominent centre place; each female can determine her eggs amongst others and lays approximately 7-10 creamy white eggs. When it is time to cover the eggs for incubation, the dominant female discards extra eggs from the weaker females, leaving about 20 in most cases.
Eggs of the ostrich are the largest of all eggs (the one weighs almost 1.5 kg), though they are actually the smallest eggs relative to the size of the adult bird. The eggs are incubated by the females by day and by the males by night for 35-45 days. This uses the colouration of the two sexes to escape detection of the nest, as the drab female blends in with the sand, while the black male is nearly undetectable in the night. Chicks are reared by both male and female ostriches and reach the size of their parents in almost 6 months. Ostriches mainly feed on seeds, shrubs, grass, fruit, flowers and insects and swallow pebbles to help in the digestion process. They can go without drinking for several days, using metabolic water and moisture in ingested plants.
Contrary to popular belief, ostriches do not bury their heads in sand to avoid danger, they lie low and press their long necks to the ground in an attempt to become less visible. Their plumage blends well with sandy soil and, from a distance, gives the appearance that they have buried their heads in the sand.
Animals that prey on ostriches of all ages may include Cheetahs, Lions, Leopards, Wild Dogs and Spotted Hyenas. Common predators of nests and young ostriches include Jackals, various Birds of Prey and Egyptian Vultures. Ostriches are farmed for their low-fat low-cholesterol red meat which is similar to beef but a little sweeter, eggs, skins and fabulous feathers.