Scientific Name: Struthio camelus
The ostrich is the fastest animal on two legs.
Ostriches, the world’s largest and heaviest birds, are unable to fly, but have wings. Why? The birds use them for balance when running, for courtship displays, for protecting their eggs and hatchlings, and for body temperature control. Ostriches can sprint at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour and can take huge strides as long as 15 feet!
STATUS: Ostriches are not threatened.
HABITAT: Ostriches are found in the savannas and deserts of central and southern Africa. They like areas with short grass, which provides food and lets them see long distances.
DIET: Leaves, roots, flowers and seeds form the bulk of ostrich’s diets, although they are omnivores who also feast on insects and small animals. Because ostriches don’t have teeth, they swallow small stones that help grind the swallowed food in their gizzards.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Feathers of adult males are primarily black with white plumage on their tails and wings while females are grayish-brown. The male ostrich is about eight feet tall and weighs about 300 pounds while females are somewhat smaller. Since it doesn’t fly, the ostrich has lost the stiff, strong wing and tail feathers that typify flying birds. Instead, ostrich feathers are loose and soft. If threatened, the ostrich has a four-inch claw on its cloven foot and can kick hard enough to kill a lion.
Nomadic ostriches live in groups ranging in size from five to fifty or more. They are often accompanied by zebras or antelopes, which kick up insects and rodents for the birds. In return, the ostriches, with their keen hearing, eyesight, and great height are able to warn other animals of impending danger.
Ostrich mating and egg laying occurs shortly before the start of the rainy season so that food will be available for the newly hatched chicks. After a courtship display in which the male bows and waves his feathers toward the female, he will mate with a dominant hen and several minor hens. Each hen lays two to eleven eggs in a shallow nest dug out by the male’s powerful legs. Amazingly, the dominant hen can detect her own eggs and deposits them in the center of the nest while pushing out other eggs. She sits on her eggs during the day, when her lighter feathers blend in with the surrounding grassland, while the male incubates the eggs at night when his dark feathers make discovery by predators more difficult. Hatching after 40 to 42 days, chicks soon learn to follow the legs of the male ostrich that incubated them.
Although some believe that ostriches hide their heads in the sand to escape danger, this is a myth. Actually, when an ostrich cannot escape danger, it tries to hide by flattening its head and neck onto the ground. It just looks like the head is buried because only the body is visible.