Birding Thursday: The Ostrich

Birding Thursday: The Ostrich

I had a request a while back to feature the world’s largest and heaviest bird, the ostrich (Struthio camelus).

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I have had the pleasure of seeing these HUGE birds at the San Diego Wild Animal Park many many years ago (think…20?!) but at that time I was more engrossed in learning about mammals, so I don’t remember much about when I saw them. The tragedy! This is one of those, If I could tell my 7 year old self something…it would be to pay attention to the birds. Haha!

Anyhow…So, the ostrich is found on the African savannah and desert regions with several sub species. They are the largest birds, weighing in between 220-290lbs for the males and 200-245lbs for the females. On average the males can grow to be 6-9ft tall and females around 6ft in height. Their average lifespan in the wild varies from 30-40 years. That’s one old bird!

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Ostriches are also extremely fast birds. They can sprint up to 43 mph and maintain a speed of 31 mph on a longer distance run. I wish I could run like that! Of course that 10-16ft stride comes in handy when they have to run away from lions, jackals, hyenas, and the like. But not only do they use their running skills to get away from predators, but have a huge two clawed foot that they can easily kill something with, like a lion. No joke, this bird can kill a lion, and disembowel a human.

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These birds are communal, and can live in herds up to 100 individuals, but typically stick to about 10 or 12. Their is a hierarchy in this group, with an alpha male and alpha hen, each with various responsibilities.  The alpha male is the protector of the group, and impregnates the alpha hen, along with many of the lesser hens. The alpha male and alpha hen share the responsibility of incubating the eggs, typically the female during the day and male at night. When hens in the herd lay their eggs though they do not get to incubate them individually but put them into the alpha hens nest for her to incubate! Her eggs always go in the middle to increase their likelihood of hatching though, because obviously, she is the alpha.

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Their eggs are huge though! In lay mans terms one ostrich egg is equivalent to the size of TWENTY chicken eggs! And their weigh three pounds! That’s huge for a bird egg! They at incubated for 42-46 days and hatch the cutest little birds!

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To keep themselves healthy ostriches normally feed on plants, seeds and roots but are also known to eat insects, lizards and other small prey animals. But in the environment they live in they will just about eat anything to keep themselves satisfied and able to provide for the chicks.

And just to clarify, it is a MYTH that ostriches stick their head in the ground when they become scared. Many believe this came to be told because when threatened an ostrich will crouch down to the ground as flat as possible and lay their neck and head down, often camouflaging it so well that it cannot be seen, making people believe it is underground.  So sorry, but they do not do what we grew up believing in all the cartoons we watched as kids!

Until next week!!!

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5 Responses to Birding Thursday: The Ostrich

  1. Another fascinating entry, Melissa! How interesting about the alpha behavior. Even animals have bizarre social norms, I guess!

    • Melissa says:

      Thanks Emily! I found the alpha behavior interesting also, especially the alpha hen nest activity! And I forgot to add that when groups get into quarrels with others that might have chicks, if they win, they will actually take their babies and raise them as their own! It’s like the babies are a prize!

  2. Mary says:

    such an enlightening post that I can’t even be mad at you for shattering our childhood misconceptions.

  3. biz319 says:

    I’ve seen a cooking show where they had to use an ostriche egg, and it was so big!! I also remember seeing them when I was little at Kings Dominion in Virginia – you could drive your car through and the animals would walk up to your car.

    Happy Friday!!

  4. sarah says:

    Their feet! I’ve never seen a close up picture of their feet before. For some reason I am always fascinated by birds’ feet and legs…especially because their leg bends “backwards’ when compared to most animals!

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