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What is an Ostrich?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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An ostrich is a very large flightless bird native to Africa. In fact, the ostrich is the largest known living bird, with specimens weighing as much as 340 pounds (155 kilograms). These birds are a famous feature of the African landscape, and many zoos keep ostriches for people who are interested in seeing them in person. In addition to being kept in zoos, ostriches are also kept in ostrich farms for their feathers, skin, and meat.

The ostrich is part of a group of birds known as ratites. Ratites are flightless birds which have evolved in such a way that they cannot fly; they lack a keel, the strong breastbone to which flight muscles would be attached. Many ratites have gone the route of the ostrich, developing very large, powerful bodies to defend themselves. The ostrich has also developed strength and endurance, along with a body which is built to run. Ostriches in motion can be quite a sight, as the birds move rapidly and thunderously across the ground.

Male ostriches have black plumage, while females have brown plumage. Both sexes have long, muscular legs which are capable of dealing a formidable kick, and the birds have two toes as opposed to the conventional four for avians. Some biologists believe that the two-toed design of the ostrich may help the birds to run quickly. Ostriches also have long, bald necks and small heads.

Most ostriches live in herds, with several members of the herd becoming dominant. The birds lay the largest eggs of any bird species, incubating them in a communal nest. Typically the male and female birds take turns incubating the eggs. Ostriches can live up to 70 years in the right conditions, with an average lifespan of around 50 years.

One of the most famous myths about ostriches is that they hide their heads in the sand when threatened. This is actually not the case. Ostriches have extremely good vision, and they generally see threats early enough to run from them. In the event that an ostrich cannot run, the bird will flatten itself out on the ground, causing it to look like a lump of soil or rock. The head of the ostrich may be stretched out flat on the ground or wrapped around the body of the bird; in both cases, it blends in so well that it looks like the head has vanished, leading to the popular idea that ostriches stick their heads in the ground to hide.

Ostrich feathers have been used as decorations for centuries, and they have also been employed in things like feather dusters. Ostrich leather can be tanned and used much like cow leather, while ostrich meat is dark, very lean, and extremely flavorful. The availability of ostrich products varies, depending on where in the world one is.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By DinoLeash — On Nov 11, 2010

@oceanswimmer: Some more facts about the ostrich:

Ostriches are super-fast runners and can run at a speed of 40 mph. This makes it easier for the ostrich to outrun its prey. The meat of an ostrich looks sort of like beef and is cooked like beef. The meat is very low in cholesterol and calories. It is almost fat-free.

There have been ostrich skeletons and fossils found that have dated back to 120 million years ago.

By OceanSwimmer — On Nov 11, 2010

I learned a lot about the ostrich when I did a research paper in Biology on their habits. One thing that I found amazing is that the female ostrich has a very extraordinary ability to differentiate her eggs from another female ostrich’s eggs. If her eggs happened to get mixed up with others, she can pick hers out.

The kick of the ostrich is so powerful that, with a single kick, she could kill her predator. Ostriches also have the most advanced immune system of any other animal.

I learned a lot of ostrich information that truly amazed me!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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