The ostrich inhabits parts of the Soviet Union, China, India, and southern and eastern Africa. It is the largest living bird in the world and is easily recognized by its shagged black feathers growing along its back and white flight and tail feathers. The ostrich cannot fly but runs at speeds of 44 mph (70 km/h)—the fastest running bird in the world. (The fastest running-flying bird is the roadrunner.)
The ostrich feeds on grasses, leaves, shoots, and some insects. Unique among birds, the ostrich can store its urine in the cloaca and release it separately from its solids.
The ostrich is well-designed for its environment. An ostrich has only two toes on each of its strong feet, which can produce a very powerful kick. The eyes on its small head are sharp and quick to spot predators such as lions or cheetahs. Long lashes protect their eyes from dust storms in the open scrub and savannahs. Like a periscope, the long neck raises and lowers helping the ostrich scan its habitat. When running, the long featherless legs of the ostrich make 10-foot (3 m) strides at a time. The flightless wings help maintain balance in a fast run.
The ostrich is a curious bird and will often pick at objects better left alone. For instance, ostriches have been known to swallow necklaces, clocks, pencils, rope, etc.
Man has successfully domesticated the ostrich and ostrich farms are not uncommon. They are farmed for their delicious meat, feathers, leather, and eggs from which ornaments are made. Domesticated ostriches can be dangerous and this big bird must be handled with care.
The mating season varies. The male digs a shallow hole in which the female lays her 8 to 10 eggs—the largest-sized egg of any living bird. (It takes 20 chicken eggs to equal the volume of one ostrich egg.) Other females may lay eggs in the same nest. The dominant female chases the other hens away and she and her mate share in the work of incubation. Within 39 or 40 days, the chicks will begin to hatch. Hatching may take up to 2 days. When the chicks are a few months old, they are on their own and will form large groups. Males will mature in three to four years and females in about two to four years.
An ostrich does not bury its head in the sand, but will sometimes lie flat on the ground with its neck and head straight out in front of it, making the head difficult to see, thus causing some to think that the head is buried in the sand.
Struthioniformes • Struthionidae • Struthio camelus
Height: Male: 8 feet (2.5 m), Female: 6 feet (1.8 m)
Weight: Male: 330 pounds (150 kg), Female: 200 pounds (90.7 kg)
Life Span: 40 years
Special Design Feature: The ostrich has long, powerful legs making it the fastest running bird in the world.
Did You Know? The ostrich is the largest bird in the world.