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Ostrich

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Ostrich
Commonostrichhead.jpg
Scientific Classification
Binomial Name

Struthio camelus

Struthiocamelus.jpg
Struthio camelus

The Ostrich is the largest bird in the world! They are omnivorous flightless birds but make up for their inability to fly with the powerful legs they possess. These birds were built for speed. [1] There is only one species of ostrich alive today: it is called the common ostrich and its scientific name is Struthio camelus. [2] [3] It lives in Africa in the African savanna and deserts. [4]

Body Design

Ostrich Foot

Ostriches have the biggest eyes of all terrestrial animals [5] which are 2 inches in diameter (front to rear). They need these large eyes to be able to share their home with predators. [6] They also are extremely tall, with males ranging from 2 to 2.7 meters and weighing up to 150 kilograms [7] making it the heaviest bird in the world. [8] Although the females are slightly smaller, overall, the ostrich is the largest bird in the world. [9]

Their feet are somewhat like a camel's. They have a soft pad on the bottom of the foot and two toes: one of which is about seven inches long with a wide claw on the end and the second is about four inches with no claw. [10]

Even though ostriches don't fly, they still have wings. "What do they use these for?" you might ask. Well, there are two answers to this question. The first of which is the fact that they use them for balance when running or turning quickly. The second is that the wings are used for courtship. A male ostrich shows his dominance by holding his head, wings, and tail feathers up. To show submission, the head, wings, and tail feathers hang low. [11]

Life Cycle

Ostrich Egg Nest

The dominant ostrich male will defend a territory of 2 to 15 kilometers squared. Then the dominant male will mate with a female (commonly referred to as the major hen). Before the major hen lays the clutch (the eggs that are lain in the nest) of five to eleven eggs, the dominant male will excavate a little bit of earth for a place for the eggs to be lain. After this takes place, the minor hens (females that did not mate with the dominant male) place their eggs in the same place as the major hens but do not help in the incubation process. The dominant male and the major hen are the only ones that play a part in the incubation process [12] which lasts for 42 to 46 days [13] and strangely enough, the major hen, it seems, is able to tell which eggs are hers and is able to rearrange the eggs so that hers are always covered. [14][note 1]

Although almost 80 eggs may appear in the "egg hoard" in a single day, only one fourth of them will hatch. This is because the incubators can only cover about 20 of them at one time. Along with the problem of the lack of incubation, the eggs are also threatened by another problem: predators— the Banded Mongoose and the Egyptian Vulture crack the eggs by banging them repeatedly with small rocks. Luckily the parents are good protectors and will defend the eggs by distracting the predators. Sadly though, when two ostrich families come across each other, some short chases might occur between the rival adults and the winners will often take home the offspring of the losers. [15] [16]

Ostriches grow to seven feet in 16 to 18 months and reach sexual maturity at about 2 years old though it is true that males take longer than females to mature and it is not rare for a male to go 3 to 4 years without reaching maturity. [17] They have a life span of 30 to 40 years. [18]

Ecology

Ostrich Searching for Food

Ostriches primarily eat seeds, leaves, flowers of some grass, shrubs and roots. But in spite of this fact, they are omnivorous and sometimes eat locusts and other invertebrates. Although their diet is unacceptable to some other animals, they have a gizzard and a fourteen meter long intestine to help digest the otherwise indigestible foods. [19]

Ostriches also have to deal with harmful predators such as the Cheetah, Lion, Leopard, Wild Dog, and the Spotted Hyena. The male has seen lashing out at large predators by kicking them with their powerful legs but usually the ostriches just run away. [20]

Relationship With Mankind

Egyptians and the Mesopotamians used to use the feathers as adornments in 5000 BC and in the eighteen hundreds, people used the feathers to make fashionable headgear. The eggs were cherished by early hunter-gatherers and even still are used as water containers and necklaces by San Bushmen today. The skin and meat has, for a long time been used by men. Now the demands for ostrich-related things are largely supplied by commercial ostrich farms. [21]

Interesting Facts

Ostrich Running

Ostriches don't drink water; they obtain H2O through the plants they eat. [22]

The Ostrich can reach up to seventy kilometers per hour in short sprints. [23]

The typical ostrich egg usually is about 6 x 5 inches and weighs about 3 pounds which is about the same weight as 24 chicken eggs. [24]

Hilariously enough, ostriches are drawn to shiny objects and are inclined to peck at them. [25]

The current conservation status of these large animals is currently lower risk. [26]

Contrary to popular belief, ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand. Instead, when they cannot run away from the danger they sense, they lay their heads and necks on the ground and because of the light coloring on these body parts, they blend in with the sand and make it look as if (from a distance) that they are burying their heads in the sand. [27]

Notes

  1. Bertram describes a study of 57 nests of ostriches of which five were selected. In this study, he notes that the major hens pushed out of the center of the nest some minor hen's eggs, although in one of the five nests he noted that in one case, a major hen´s egg was pushed out of the center of the nest. in: Bertram, Brian C. R (1992). The Ostrich Communal Nesting System. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 110-114. ISBN 0-691-08785-7. 

References