Characteristics of Ostriches
The Ostrich is a large flightless bird endemic to Africa. It is the largest and heaviest known living bird on Earth. This genus of birds roam African savanna and desert lands and graze among Giraffes, Zebras, Wildebeest, and Gazelles.
The Ostrich is distinctive in its appearance, with a long bare neck, and legs. Its strong thighs and legs help it to run at up to about 70 km/h (the fastest land speed of any bird). The Ostrich has also loose, soft, and smooth feathers which are black with white primaries and tail in males, and grey-brown with white primaries in females. They have just two toes on each foot (most birds have four), with the nail on the larger, inner toe resembling a hoof. Ostriches are known to be powerful kickers; kicks can kill a human or a potential predator like a Lion. They have also the largest eyes of any terrestrial animal, with a diameter of 50 mm. Ostriches usually weigh from 63 to 145 kilograms according to the subspecies. At sexual maturity (2 to 4 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’ Social Life & Reproduction
Ostriches normally spend the winter months in pairs or alone, but during the breeding season or extreme rainless periods they live in nomadic groups of 5 up to 100 birds. These groups often travel and move together with other different grazing animals, and have a pecking order. A dominant male that establishes and defends a territory, a dominant female called the “main hen,” and several other females. Lone Ostrich males may also come and go during the breeding season.
All of Ostrich groups’ hens place their eggs in the dominant hen’s 3 m-wide nest, though her own are given the prominent center place. Actually, each female can determine her own eggs from other females’ eggs, and lays approximately 7 – 10 creamy white eggs. When it is time to cover the eggs for the incubation, the dominant female Ostrich discards extra eggs from the weaker females, leaving about 20 in most cases.
Ostrich’s Eggs 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 40 – 45 days. This uses the coloration 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. Ostrich chicks are reared by both male and female birds, and reach the size of their parents in almost 6 months.
Ostriches in their Habitats
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, 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.