With a height of up to 9 feet and weighing as much as 320 pounds, the giant flightless ostrich offers a glimpse into a unique section of the animal kingdom. Studying these ostrich facts uncovers fascinating traits and habits that set them apart from their avian relatives.
Native to the African continent, ostriches gracefully traverse savannahs and deserts. These birds adapt well to their environment and can reach up to 40 miles per hour when necessary, outpacing most predators. Throughout this article, we will explore ostrich facts, inspiring a deeper appreciation for this wondrous bird.
If these ostrich facts have made you curious about birds, look at this article about bird facts!
As the world’s largest bird, an adult male ostrich dwarfs all other birds in comparison. The ostrich's long, slender neck and relatively small head create a distinctive silhouette but also serve a practical purpose. They help these giants scan the horizon for potential threats or valuable resources.
The ostrich's eyes are the largest among land animals, giving them a razor-sharp vision that complements their watchful behavior. Unsurprisingly, these birds also lay the largest eggs among bird species.
And on the opposite end of the scale, how about this article about the world's smallest birds?
Though flightless, ostriches have an impressive wingspan of up to 6.6 feet. These large wings serve various essential functions that help them survive in the wild. These wings help them achieve astounding speeds of up to 43 miles per hour3.
Their wings help ostriches keep balance while running. As stabilizers, their wings ensure they don't lose control or tip over while running across the vast landscape. Moreover, these expansive wings also act as rudders, enabling the ostriches to change direction quickly at top speed.
Besides locomotion, ostrich wings are crucial in their courtship displays and social behaviors. Males, in particular, use these wings in elaborate mating dances. They spread their wings wide and perform captivating movements to assert dominance over rivals and attract females.
Besides being the world’s largest bird, the common ostrich is the fastest two-legged land animal on our planet. They can run for up to 45 miles per hour. Their powerful long legs allow these flightless birds to cover up to 16 feet in just one stride.
As it sprints across the African savannas, this flightless bird can quickly escape predators or cover vast expanses in the blink of an eye. Their large lungs and efficient respiratory systems keep them well-oxygenated, ensuring they don't tire too quickly.
Curiously, the secret to an ostrich's speed lies in the unique structure of its feet. They are the only bird with two toes on each foot (most birds have three or four toes). The larger inner toe has a large nail that reminds of a hoof, while the outer toe is relatively smaller. This adaptation reduces the weight of their feet, increases the surface area in contact with the ground, and boosts traction.
Ostriches are well-known for their long, thick eyelashes, vital adaptations for their semi-arid habitats. In these environments, sand and dust storms are common and dangerous, threatening these birds’ vision and respiratory systems. Fortunately, the ostrich's dense and lengthy eyelashes protect their large eyes by acting as a barrier against abrasive sand particles.
Moreover, these fascinating birds have evolved several specialized features, like their ability to close their nostrils, keeping out sand and dust. Did you know they also have a transparent third eyelid called the nictitating membrane? This remarkable adaptation shields the ostrich’s eye from the elements without compromising its vision.
Ostriches live and travel with grazing animals and must eat large quantities of food to maintain their giant frame. However, they have no teeth that can break down their meals. Over the centuries, they've found an intriguing workaround.
With a diverse diet comprising roots, plants, seeds, lizards, and insects, ostriches digest their food by swallowing small rocks and grit. These foreign objects help break down these ingested materials for easier digestion.
Consuming rocks, known as gastroliths, is crucial to the ostrich's digestion. These small stones can be as tiny as a pea or as large as a walnut, and they travel into the bird's gizzard, a muscular stomach designed for grinding food.
The jagged rocks help pulverize tough plant fibers, seeds, and even animal matter. However, the gizzard has a lining of robust, keratinous material, allowing it to withstand the grinding. Over time, the constant grinding within the gizzard smooths out the once-jagged rocks. These worn-down stones eventually pass through the digestive system, making way for new, sharper ones.
Unlike other bird species ostriches have three stomachs2. This three-stomach arrangement allows them to break down a diverse diet effectively. The first stomach, the proventriculus, starts the digestive process. At this stage, ostriches produce essential enzymes and hydrochloric acid.
From there, the food enters the gizzard, where swallowed stones and pebbles grind it thoroughly. Finally, the third stomach, called the ventriculus, continues breaking down the food before it reaches the long intestines for efficient nutrient absorption.
Besides their three stomachs, ostriches’ intestines stretch for up to 46 feet, providing a greater surface area for nutrient absorption. Interestingly, these animals regurgitate and re-chew their food, a process similar to rumination in cows, which contributes to effective digestion.
Over the years, ostriches have evolved the ability to survive for up to two weeks without water. Their water reserves come from their food, such as plants, fruits, and insects. For instance, they can extract enough water from a succulent cactus to quench their thirst.
However, ostriches do drink when they find a water source. Unlike many other animals, their efficient food-based water intake simply reduces their reliance on direct water sources.
Ostriches' ability to regulate their body temperature helps them limit water loss and survive dry environments. They raise their body temperature, reducing the need for evaporative cooling. As their body evaporates sweat, it cools down while consuming precious water.
Moreover, ostriches have a unique excretion system that separates urine from feces, further conserving water. Their kidneys filter out uric acid, excreting it as a semi-solid paste instead of liquid urine.
Halfway through the article? Keep scrolling to learn more about ostrich eggs and other curious facts about these flightless birds!
Male ostriches or roosters perform a complex mating dance to attract potential mates4. One key aspect of the dance is the wing-flapping, where the rooster shows off its impressive wingspan, showcasing his size and power as the wings spread and flap rhythmically. The spectacle draws the attention of the female ostrich, known as a hen.
Besides wing-flapping, a male ostrich performs a series of elegant head bobs, lowering and raising their heads precisely. In addition, deep booming calls echo across the landscape, reaching other hens from kilometers away. Not only do these calls entice prospective mates, but they also signal the rooster's dominance over other males in the area.
Contrary to popular belief, ostriches bury their heads in the sandy soil not to ignore imminent threats but to build nests. This popular myth stems from the ostrich’s peculiar nesting habits. When laying their eggs, ostriches dig shallow depressions in the sand to create nesting sites. These rudimentary nests are perfect for the world's largest birds.
Likewise, the ostrich’s diligent and attentive parenting style has perpetuated the "head in the sand" myth. For instance, ostriches must turn their eggs multiple times daily to ensure proper development. A mother ostrich uses her beak and neck to turn an ostrich egg over. People who see this ritual might easily mistake the ostrich's posture as a misguided attempt at hiding.
While looking for food, ostriches must also put their head in the sand to reach seeds, plants, and insects.
A female ostrich lays a remarkable 60 eggs per year and sometimes two a day during the breeding season, from March to September. The height of egg production tends to occur between April and June when conditions are ideal for incubation and chick-rearing.
An average ostrich egg can weigh a staggering 3 pounds and reach 6 inches in diameter. Each egg is equivalent to two dozen chicken eggs! With a thick shell that can support a grown human's weight, ostrich eggs provide a safe, sturdy haven for the developing embryo. The incubation period takes 42 days.
After six weeks, ostrich chicks face threats from predators like hyenas, jackals, and Egyptian vultures. Upon hatching, they might resemble the size of an average chicken, but they will quickly grow into huge adult ostriches.
These chicks undergo a significant growth spurt in their first month1. They gain about a foot (30 cm) in height. They continue to grow at this rate for several months. By the time they're six months old, they've nearly reached the stature of their adult counterparts.
To help them keep growing, young ostriches eat insects, plants, and small animals.
Ostriches have also evolved a devastating weapon for self-defense: their powerful kicking ability. Using their long muscular legs, ostriches can perform forceful forward kicks, deterring, harming, and even killing predators and humans. The ostrich also maintains perfect stability while kicking.
An ostrich kick can deliver a force of up to 2,000 pounds per square inch. Besides, one of the toes on each foot has a long claw that can grow up to 4 inches. Getting hit with an ostrich kick can result in puncture wounds, fractured bones, and severe internal injuries. While ostriches generally aren't aggressive towards humans, they could lash out if cornered or threatened.
Thanks to their softness, volume, and natural shine, ostrich feathers have long dominated the fashion world since ancient Egypt, when they helped symbolize wealth and status. Over the centuries, these feathers have become a staple material for European nobility during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
Since then, fashion enthusiasts have incorporated their tail feathers into hats, fans, and hairpieces. A notable example is the iconic feathered fans of flamenco dancers, who express emotion and passion through their performances.
Ostrich farming has become a sustainable option for traditional livestock in recent years. Raising ostriches is a much better option for farmers who want to produce meat in an environmentally friendly manner. It's because ostriches require significantly fewer resources, such as land, water, and food when compared to cattle or sheep.
In an interview with Food Navigator USA, ostrich farm owner Alexander McCoy shared the details of how this alternative meat is more sustainable.
Compared to other flying birds, the common ostrich faces fewer threats to its survival. However, the Somali ostrich tells a different story. Native to the arid regions of northeastern Africa, the male Somali ostrich stands out, boasting a striking blue hue on its neck and legs.
Identified as a separate species in 2014, the Somali ostrich faces several challenges, including rampant hunting. Poachers target these birds for their feathers, skin, and nutritious ostrich meat. Besides capturing adult birds, poachers grab their eggs to eat or use as crafting ornaments, makeshift water containers, and even talismans with protective powers. In addition, human encroachment has shrunk ostrich habitats.
As a result, the IUCN Red List has classified the Somali ostrich as a vulnerable species. Meanwhile, they classified the common ostrich as a species of least concern.
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Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with O.
Deeming, D. C., & Bubier, N. E. (1999). Behaviour patterns of nesting female ostriches (Struthio camelus) at a farm in the United Kingdom. British Poultry Science, 40(4), 480-488.
Cooper, R. G., & Horbańczuk, J. O. (2004). Anatomy and physiology of the gastro-intestinal tract and growth curves of the ostrich (Struthio camelus). Animal Science Papers and Reports, 22(3), 225-232.
Smith, N. C., Wilson, A. M., Jespers, K. J., & Payne, R. C. (2016). Muscle architecture and functional anatomy of the pelvic limb of the ostrich (Struthio camelus). Journal of Anatomy, 229(4), 525-543.
Bertram, B. C. R. (1992). The Ostrich Communal Nesting System. Princeton University Press.