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Interesting Facts About The Ostrich
The ostrich is the world's largest bird. It is also one of the flightless birds, a group it shares with the cassowary, emu, rhea and kiwi. Instead of flying, ostriches rely on their long legs and sheer size to run away from or fight their way out of trouble.
Anatomy and Physiology
Ostriches are taller than most men at 7 to 9 feet in height. They weigh between 140 and 320 pounds and can run up to 43 miles per hour for short periods of time. They can maintain a sustained speed of up to 31 miles per hour for an hour or more when necessary.
Males have black feathers, while females and immature birds have grayish-brown plumage. The wing and tail feathers differ in color depending on the subspecies the bird belongs to. Ostriches have no feathers on their legs and the lower half of their legs are covered in scales.
The egg of an ostrich weighs about 3 pounds, or the equivalent of 24 chicken eggs. Ostriches are omnivores that will eat almost anything they can find or catch. The majority of their diet is made up of plant matter, but they also eat insects and other invertebrates.
Ostriches have only two toes on each foot where most birds have four. They have extremely large eyes, which together actually take up more space in the skull than their brain. They have a wingspan of around 6 1/2 feet, which looks small and stubby on their giant bodies.
There are five subspecies of ostrich, one of which may be its own unique species. The Somali ostrich looks and behaves significantly differently than the other four ostrich subspecies. Its range overlaps with one other subspecies, but the animals are ecologically separated because they prefer different habitat.
The ostrich lifestyle depends on the time of year. Singletons and pairs are the most common during the winter months, but they live in groups of 5 to 50 birds during the breeding season. Ostriches commonly travel with other species of grazing animals, including herds of zebra or antelope.
Ostriches are too fast for most predators to catch once they start running, but they are hunted by stealth attack. Predators that employ this method of hunting ostriches include African wild dogs, hyenas, lions and leopards. Cheetahs are the only animals that can run down ostriches and are one of the most prolific predators of these birds.
In captivity, the oldest ostriches have made it into their early 60s. This makes it one of the longest-lived birds in the world. Wild ostriches that survive to adulthood can live 25 to 40 years.
Reproduction and Growth
During the breeding season, male ostriches are territorial and protective of the two to five females that form their harem. Males will mate with many different females but only form a bond with one. The male will also create the nest, which is a simple scraped hollow in the ground.
The females, called hens, have a strict pecking order and the dominant hen lays her eggs first. She allows subordinate females to lay their eggs in the nest, too, but discards any over a total of about 20. The dominant hen incubates the eggs during the day and the male takes over at night.
The male ostrich is the main caregiver of the chicks once they are hatched. He teaches them to hunt and scratch for food, protects them from predators and shades them under his wings. Females do help with rearing the chicks in some cases.
Ostriches reach sexual maturity at two to four years of age. However, very few actually reach this age. About 90 percent of ostrich nests are destroyed and only about 15 percent of successfully-hatched ostrich chicks reach the age of one.
Ostriches and Humans
Although many people are not aware of the fact, ostriches are commercially farmed all over the world. They are one of the most efficient species in terms of feed conversion to meat, and they can adapt to climates from Africa to Alaska. One of the strongest leathers in the world is made from ostrich skin.
People also eat ostrich meat and eggs. The meat of an ostrich is very low in fat and cholesterol, and it is said to taste a lot like lean beef. The eggs are said to taste much like any other egg, but they are inconveniently sized for individual servings!