STATUS IN THE WILD: Least Concern
Although ostriches have two wings, these giant birds are unable to fly. They can, however, sprint up to 45 miles per hour over short distances. Their wings, instead, are used for balance as well as for display during mating season.
Ostriches are considered to be sexually dimorphic, meaning males and females can have different physical features. Males tend to be larger, reaching heights of up to nine feet. Females can grow to be about 6.5 feet tall. Males also have higher contrast in their coloring, while females are more gray and dull.
Ostriches usually stay in groups of 10 or fewer. They can, however, flock in groups of over 100. The larger the number, the better the defense against predators. Ostriches have very long necks and keen eyesight, which also helps in defense.
It is widely believed that ostriches stick their heads in the sand when they sense danger. This is not true. Instead, ostriches will put their bodies, necks, and heads flat on the ground when they are unable to run away. From a distance, this looks like ostriches stick their heads in the ground.
While courting, male ostriches perform very interesting dances to impress the females. Before dancing, a male will slowly bow his head and begin to wave his wings. Then, he will shake his wing feathers while moving his tail up and down. He will then stamp his feet and hold his wings out from his body. If the female is impressed by this display, she will mate with the male.
Even without reproducing, ostriches will lay on average 40 eggs a year, although many of them will be unfertilized. If fertilization did occur, a female ostrich may lay 12 to 15 eggs at one time. These eggs, the largest in the world, weigh approximately three pounds. They are large enough to hold the contents of 24 chicken eggs.
DIET AND HABITAT
Ostriches live in most parts of Africa. Native to the African savannah, ostriches are the largest living bird. These flightless birds are members of the ratite family. Emus, kiwis and rheas are also ratites.
They tend to graze the savannah and deserts along with other animals such as zebras, African elephants, and antelopes. Because ostriches are omnivores, they will feed on nearly anything that is available in their habitat. This includes seeds, insects, leaves, small lizards, snakes, and even some rodents.
Like many birds, ostriches have organs called gizzards that help them grind and digest their food. Because of their unique digestive systems, ostriches have the ability to eat foods that other animals cannot. They tend to also eat pebbles and sand to help the gizzard further grind their food.
While ostriches are currently considered to be of least concern, they have had a troubled relationship with poaching. Ostrich plumes have been very sought after. In the late 1700’s, the booming hat industry brought on the hunting of wild birds. As time went on, hats became less and less popular, especially after motor vehicles were invented. Today, ostrich farms are much less popular, and are used for eggs, leather, and gourmet meat.