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Ostrich

Male Ostrich
Male Ostrich


Ostriches and Young
Photographer: Susann Eurich


Ostriches
Photographer: James G Howes

Female Ostrich
Female Ostrich

Ostrich Range Map (Africa) Ostrich Range Map (Africa)
Latin Name Struthio camelus
Conservation Status Least Concern
Location Africa
Colour Males: Black & White
Females: Brown & White
Height 2.1 - 2.8 m (7 - 9.25 ft)
Wingspan Approx. 2 m (6.6 ft)
Weight 100 - 160 Kgs (220 - 350 lbs)
Life Expectancy Up to 40 Yrs

Main Characteristics


Ostriches are large, flightless birds. They are between 2.1 and 2.8 m (7 - 9.25 ft) in height, they have a wingspan of approximately 2 m (6.6 ft) and they weigh between 100 and 160 kgs (220 - 350 lbs).

They have a long, bare neck, a small head, a huge body and long, muscular legs. Their feathers are loosely packed and males are coloured black with a white tail and wing tips and females are brown/grey and white in colour.

They have the longest legs of any bird and they have two toes on each foot. The large inner toe has a nail that resembles a hoof while the smaller outer toe lacks a nail. This adaptation aids them while they are running and they can reach speeds up to 70 km/hr (43.5 mph). Ostriches are the fastest animal over time and they can sustain speeds of 50 km/hr (31 mph) for as long as 30 minutes.

Ostriches have the largest eyes of any land living animal and they measure 50 mm (2 inches) in diameter. Their beak is flat and broad and it has a rounded tip. They do not have any teeth so to aid digestion they will eat small stones to help grind down their food in their stomach. They have a 14 m (46 ft) long intestine which enables the Ostrich to get as many nutrients out of their diet as possible.

They live in a climate that can have temperature differences as much as 40°C between day and night time therefore Ostriches can with stand a variety of temperatures. To help control their temperature they utilize the bare skin on their upper legs and flanks, covering it with their wing feathers or exposing it depending on if they want to retain heat or cool down. Another adaptation to this climate is that they are able to raise their body temperature by 4°C during hot periods to minimize their water loss through perspiration.

Habitat

Ostriches are found in the open, semi-arid savannahs of Africa. They tend to live in mixed groups of 5 - 50 individuals but sometimes they live alone.

Diet

Ostriches mainly feed on grasses, roots, seeds, leaves and flowers. They also occasionally eat invertebrates and small lizards. They are able to go for long periods without water as they get the moisture they need from the vegetation that they eat.

Breeding

During the breeding season males make loud, booming calls and produce elaborate displays. A dominant male will defend a territory between 2 and 15 sq. kms (0.8 - 5.8 sq. miles) and he will mate with the major hen and other females within the area.

A nest is constructed by scraping a hollow in the soil and it is approximately 3 m (9 ft) in diameter. The major hen lays 5 - 11 eggs in the nest and the minor hens lay 2 - 6 eggs in the same nest, but the minor hens play no part in the incubation of the eggs. As many as 40 - 60 eggs can accumulate in the nest but only 20 will be incubated. The major hen is able to distinguish the eggs that she laid and will ensure that they are covered at all times.

Ostrich eggs are glossy cream in colour and they are on average 15 cm (6 inches) in length, 13 cms (5 inches) wide and 1.4 kgs (3 lbs) in weight. They are incubated for 35 - 45 days and upon hatching the young ostriches are well cared for and defended by the dominant male and the major hen. Occasionally if two family groups encounter each other a fight may break out and the victorious pair may make off with the young of the other Ostriches.

Ostriches reach sexual maturity at 2 - 4 years of age with females maturing about 6 months before males.

Predators

The main predators to Ostriches are cheetahs but lions, african wild dogs, leopards and spotted hyena are also a threat. An adult male Ostrich is a formidable opponent and will strike out at a predator, however in most cases Ostriches are able to out run their pursuer.

Ostrich chicks are vulnerable to a range of predators including large eagles and eggs are taken by banded mongoose and egyptian vultures.

Subspecies

There are five recognized subspecies of Ostrich but only four are still in existence today:

Southern Ostrich
(Struthio camelus australis)
They are also known as the South African Ostrich and they are found in Southern Africa. They were once farmed for their feathers in the Little Karoo area of Cape Province.

North African Ostrich
(Struthio camelus camelus)
They are also known as the Red-necked Ostrich and they are the largest subspecies. They are the most widespread and can be found from east to west Africa. Their neck is red and the plumage of female's is grey in colour.

Masai Ostrich
(Struthio camelus massaicus)
They are found in east Africa and their range is limited to Kenya, Tanzania and parts of southern Somalia. Their neck and thighs are orange and during the mating season the neck and thighs of males become bright orange. They also have some small feathers on their head.

Somali Ostrich
(Struthio camelus molybdophanes)
They are found in Somalia, Ethiopia and northern Kenya. Their neck and thighs are grey/blue in colour and during the mating season the neck and thighs of males become bright blue. Females tend to be more brown in colour than other subspecies. They generally live alone or in pairs rather than in flocks.

Arabian Ostrich
(Struthio camelus syriacus)
They were also known as the Middle Eastern Ostrich and they were found in the Arabian Peninsula, Syria and Iraq. They became extinct around 1966.

Interesting Facts

Ostriches are the largest, tallest and heaviest species of bird.

The name "Strothio camelus" means camel-like.

Ostrich eggs are the largest of all birds eggs, but they are the smallest relative to their size.

Only 10% of all Ostrich eggs laid will end up hatching.

There are many Ostrich farms in African countries that produce Ostriches for sustenance needs. These commercial farms meet the demand for Ostrich products so wild populations are not as affected by demand as they have been in the past.

It is a myth that Ostriches bury their heads in the sand.

Ostrich feathers have been used to make feather dusters for over 100 years.

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