Struthio camelus massaicus
Height: Males up to 8 feet. Females are somewhat shorter. Weight: Up to 160 pounds. The ostrich is the largest living bird, and also the heaviest. The head is small in relation to the size of the bird, but its huge eyes, protected by long, black eyelashes, are the largest of any terrestrial vertebrate, with a diameter of 2 inches. The feathers are unusual in that the barbs are loose, due to the absence of hooks on the barbules, and the plumage is soft and smooth. They are unable to water-proof their feathers, which tend to become sodden in rain.
There are only two toes, the inner of which is thick and strong. This is an adaptation for running, and helps make the ostrich the fastest runner in the bird world. It also has great stamina, and can keep up a speed of 31 miles per hour for over 30 minutes. They use the wings for balance at high speeds.
The male is mostly black, but the wings and tail are nearly pure white. The female is much more drab. Her body feathers are brown with pale fringes, with the wings and tail a dirty white. Juvenile plumage is similar to the female’s. During the breeding season the pink of the male’s neck becomes much brighter.
Class: Bird (Aves)
Range: Southern Kenya - Tanzania
Habitat: Open, semi-arid plains, from desert to savanna; also open woodland. Does not require standing water.
Lifespan: 30 to 40 years
Wild Diet: Small animals, fruit, grass, vegetation
Zoo Diet: Dry dog food, scratch grain, gamebird chow, trout chow, turkey growena, calf manna, ground meat, lettuce, grit and oyster shell, sweet feed (oats, molasses, etc.)
Ostriches are diurnal, the daily activity beginning shortly after sunrise and ending soon after sunset. They may cover great distances searching for food. At night they roost at regular communal sites. Individuals of a group are always within sight and hearing of each other, but may be varying distances apart. They squat with the necks raised most of the night, although the eyes are closed. The ostrich is gregarious, and this may have evolved as a defense strategy. They form groups of up to 100 birds. Each group has its own sites for feeding, roosting and dust-bathing, and tends to avoid contact with other groups. There is a pecking order with dominant males and females, which are copied in their activities by other members of the group. There are frequent social interactions between individuals, and sometimes short fights. They are polygamous, each cock having a harem of 3 to 5 hens. The hens lay in a common nest scraped out of the ground, and together lay up to 30 eggs.
Shell of the ostrich egg (one-sixteenth of an inch in thickness) is so strong that a man may walk, even stomp, upon the clutch, and cause no harm. An ostrich egg equals about 24 hen eggs but is only 1.5 % of the females weight. For the Egyptian Vulture, the contents of an ostrich egg are a delectable challenge; the vulture has learned to throw stones at the egg until it cracks. A female can lay up to eight eggs, each weighing two to three pounds.
Gestation: 42 to 46 days
Litter: Clutch Size: 2-11 yellowish eggs, approximately 5 inches
Conservation Status: Least Concern
- The popular belief that ostriches bury their heads in the sand when in danger is erroneous, and has never been recorded. When no other form of escape is evident, a bird may sit down with the head and neck stretched out on the ground in front of it in the hope of being overlooked by its pursuer.
- An ostrich can only kick forward. It uses its powerful legs to run away from or to cut open a predator in self-defense.
- The Genus name, Struthio, is Latin, meaning 'an ostrich.' The species name, camelus, is Latin for 'a camel': 'a camel-like ostrich.' It is a suitable name for this fast-running bird. The sub-species name refers to the Masai natives of southern Africa.