Ostrich

Scientific Name: Struthio camelus

Description

The largest living bird, an ostrich stands 8 feet tall and weighs up to 345 pounds. This is a flightless bird with a very long, bare neck, long legs and large, panoramic eyes that are the size of tennis balls! Its bill is broad and flat. The female’s plumage is a dull brownish color, making it possible for her to hide in the African bush; the male is covered with bold black and white feathers. The only living bird with just two toes; it runs on the strong, inner toe at speeds of up to 50 mph.

Habitat and Range

The ostrich can be found among the salt bushes that grow on the South African savanna. Although an ostrich eats mostly roots, flowers and fruits, it may also take insects, lizards and small tortoises. It shares the open plains and woodlands with animals such as wildebeest and zebra. The mammals’ keen sense of smell combined with the keen eyesight of the ostrich helps both to keep watch for predators.

Natural History and Behavior

The ostrich lays the largest egg in the bird world, weighing up to 3.3 pounds, with a shell 2 mm (.08 inch) thick. The male usually digs out a 10-foot wide nest, after which a harem of up to 18 (but usually two to five) females may lay 40 or more eggs. Normally, only about 20 eggs are incubated, with the surplus being pushed outside of the nest and left un-incubated. While defending its nest, an ostrich can be very aggressive and has been known to kill young lions with their strong kicks. In fact, kicking is the ostrich’s best weapon, delivering 500 pounds of force per square inch.

Status in the Wild

Because of the high demand for feathery plumes in the 1500s in Europe, and then again during the 1800s in America, only five of the nine original ostrich species exists today. The ostrich is now bred on farms and ranches in Africa, Europe and the U.S., lessening the threat of over-hunting. The main threat now lies in the destruction of its natural habitat. Unfortunately there are now fewer than 150,000 ostriches left in the wild. In addition, there are many feral, hybrid birds found throughout Africa.

Fact or Fiction?

Do ostriches really bury their heads in the sand? No. This myth probably started when an observer saw a bird with its neck stretched flat on the ground while sleeping or incubating its eggs.

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