Learn about members of the Animal Kingdom

Ostrich – The Largest Flightless Bird on the Planet Today

Cute ostrich family

The Ostrich is the largest flightless bird living in Africa today, and is a member of the Struthionidae family and also a member of the ratite group where we can find other flightless birds such as Emus, Cassowaries, Kiwis and Rheas.

These birds can’t fly, but they are very tall, have large eyes and very strong legs, which means that they have very good eyesight and they can run faster than any other bird on the planet.

History of the Ostrich

Ostriches have been found living on the vast plains of the planet millions of years ago from the east (China and Mongolia) up to the west around the Mediterranean Sea.

About one million years ago, ostriches along with other animals migrated to Africa in search for a warmer climate.

In the XXI century, ostriches can be found in the Sahel region of Africa and in the open fields of the savannahs, but also north and south of the Equator on the African continent and in Southwest Africa where they can be found in the semidesert and the true desert areas.

Ostrich Taxonomy

It seems that the flightless birds that are today members of the ratite group have descended from different ancestors.

This means that the taxonomy of the ratite group is going to change and not all the members will continue to be part of the Struthioniformes order and the Struthionidae family.

However, until ornithologists will agree on a new classification, ostriches will continue to be part of the ratite group.

Ostrich Characteristics

Ostriches (Struthio camelus) are large birds that can’t fly, but have very large and strong legs, a long neck and a small head with very large eyes.

Male ostriches are taller than the females and have black feathers with white ends, while the females have grey and brown feathers.

Male ostriches can reach a height up to 9 ft. (2.75 m) and a weight up to 345 lbs. (157 kg).

Females are smaller, they can reach a height up to 7 ft (2.14 m) and a weight around 275 lbs. (125 kg).

Ostriches can’t fly, but they have very strong legs, so they can run very fast reaching speeds up to 45 mph (72 km/h).

The wings are used to balance the body while turning at high speeds or to slow down.

The very large eyes and the height of the bird ensures a very good eyesight, which is very useful in savannahs where the predators can be everywhere.

Ostrich Behavior

Ostriches are partially social birds because they spend the winter months alone or in pair.

During the drought periods, and also in the breeding season, ostriches gather in nomadic groups that usually consist of 5 up to 50 birds (they are led by a top pair, male and female).

Ostriches are not very social only during the winter months when they can live alone or in pair.

However, during the dry periods, and also in the breeding season, ostriches gather in nomadic groups that usually consist of 5 up to 50 birds (they are led by a top pair, male and female).

The group can travel along with herbivores such as antelopes or zebras.

Being the bird with the largest eyes in the world, the ostrich can see the predators from a pretty long distance.

When attacked, the ostrich can run very fast, if needed it can reach speeds up to 45 mph (72 km/h).

Another technique used by the ostrich to avoid predators is to lay down with the head and the neck laid on the ground.

Using this position, the ostrich looks like a mound of soil, so the predators will pass without knowing that the ostrich is there.

The ostrich can bear a difference in temperature between the day and the night of 72 °F (40 °C) due to the fact that its temperature control mechanism works together with its wings.

If the outside temperature is low, the ostrich will keep its wings closed to conserve heat and cover the naked area of the body and the upper legs.

To dissipate heat, the ostrich will open its wings to cool the body.

Ostrich Breeding Season

Ostriches reach sexual maturity between the age of 2 and 4 years (females are quicker) and the mating ritual could differ from one region to another.

Males will fight for the mating right if there is no a dominant ostrich male, and only the winner will get the right to mate with the hen harem.

The hen harem can consist of two up to seven females.

The males will fight for a few minutes, and the winner will choose a hen from the harem to make pair with her.

The pair that is formed this way will become the dominant pair in the area.

Before mating, both the male and the female will perform a dance to impress the other.

All the females in the harem will lay their fertilized eggs in a communal nest, which consists in a three meters wide and up to 60 centimeters deep pit.

Ostrich eggs are the largest in the world, reaching 6 inches in length and 5 inches in width, and a weight up to 3.1 lbs. (1.4 kg).

Incubation takes about 40 days, and the chicks will be raised by both parents.

In captivity, ostriches can live up to 40 years, but in the wild, they can rarely reach such a venerable age.

Ostrich Predators

Ostriches represent the prey of many predators.

They’re hunted by lions, cheetahs, leopards, tigers, crocodiles and even by warthogs (the chicks).

Lions, leopards and tigers can catch the ostrich only by ambush, while cheetahs can easily catch the ostrich using their extremely fast acceleration (top speed of 70 mph).

Crocodiles can catch ostrich when the bird wants to drink water.

Even if they have so many enemies, ostriches manage to survive in the savannah because they are hiding behind large herds of herbivores and they also know how to lay down on the ground to look like a mound of soil and trick the predators.

They also have a large claw at the end of each leg and their kick is so powerful and violent that they can fatally wound even a lion.

Ostrich Conservation

People and ostriches have a very long history together.

In antiquity, the Egyptians have built farms to grow ostriches in captivity.

Today, many people are doing the same thing because they know that these birds have a high commercial value.

Ostriches have been also used for racing.

Ostrich feathers have been used for adornment even in the ancient Egypt and the huge eggs were used as jewelry or to carry water.

Extensive hunting for ostrich meat, skin and feathers have led to their extinction in the Middle East and in North and South Africa.

Final thought

Thanks to farming, their species is not considered threatened at global level today.

However, their subspecies require strict protection and the farms have also helped to conserve the wild populations of ostriches.

Ostrich distribution

Ostrich distribution in Africa.

Article written by:

Darius Savin is a lifelong animal lover and protector and the chief editor of Checkmember. He writes and edits articles and is also the creator of the distribution maps for all the creatures featured here.