The Ostrich - Struthio camelus
The Ostriches can be found all over the world due to domestication
Now you wouldn't think I'd see much of the ostrich in Texas. You'd be wrong about that. Texans are a strange breed, and if you know where to look you can see pastures with large oak trees, and some large birds walking around within the tall fences. The tall fences aren't for the protection of the ostrich, my friends, they are for your protection.
No, and ostrich isn't a predatory, evil, or violent bird. What it is, is a very large bird. It's a bird large enough to kill you should you approach one foolishly. An ostrich has emotions and moods, and you don't want to come upon an ostrich in a foul mood. Johnny Cash did that once, he came upon an ostrich in a foul mood. It was Johnny's ostrich, he fed the thing, cared for it; and he was damn near killed when he crossed the path of an angry ostrich.
Ostriches sometimes go about in pairs
The cheetah - the most successful killer of the ostrich.
The cheetah is the arch enemy of the ostriches
It is probably well known to all that the ostrich is the world's largest bird. You knew that, and you knew already the ostrich could not fly. One thing you maybe didn't know is the ostrich can run as fast as forty five miles per hour. That is really running fast, try it yourself, and you'll see. I mention this because I wanted you all to realize that should you enter an ostriches domain, you won't be able to outrun the ostrich, and again - this bird can be dangerous.
Consider what an ostrich has to deal with in its homelands in Africa; it has to deal with large cats who can run very fast, and in the case of the lion, can take down even an elephant. The ostrich, however, doesn't always have to run from a lion, a leopard, or a cheetah. Forty five miles an hour is fast, but not nearly fast enough to outrun a cheetah. The ostrich is equipped for some violence, as ostriches come from a violent world. There have been verified reports of ostriches killing lions, but because of the cheetah's amazing running speed, cheetahs are the most dangerous predators to the ostrich.
Cats are hardly the only types of predators the ostriches face in Africa, there are also wild dogs, warthogs, hyenas, jackals, mongooses and various and sundry large birds of prey. An ostrich, when its young are threatened, is most dangerous to predators.
So just how in the hell is it a bird can kill a lion? I'm glad you asked about that. I've the answer for that question right here for you; the ostrich can kill a lion with its feet. That's right, the bird has killer feet.
The deadly spiked foot of an ostrich
Ostriches have unique and deadly feet
To be sure, most birds have more than two toes on their bird feet. So what in the heck is up with the ostrich? Well, it's a unique bird in more ways than just one. Besides being the largest bird in the world, it is also still existing species of bird from the Genus Struthio. All birds of the Struthio Genus are, well, ostriches. The ostrich has relatives, of course, just none who are very closely related.
Back to that spiked foot thing for a minute. You may or may not realize this, but some ostriches have weighed in - in excess of three hundred pounds. According to Wikipedia, there was an ostrich individual once weighing in at three hundred and forty six pounds. Think about it, that is over three hundred pounds of bird who can ram that large spike into you, or a lion, or whatever it happens to be kicking, and kick these birds do. An ostrich can only kick forward, it is a bird, and not a horse. As Johnny Cash learned, rather painfully, an ostrich can also jump rather high, and then come downward with all its weight upon you with that ripping spike of a toe nail it has.
We've talked about what animals eat ostrich when they can, so what does an ostrich eat? Their diet consists mainly of roots, leaves, and seeds, but ostriches will eat whatever is available. Sometimes they consume insects, snakes, lizards, and rodents. They also swallow sand and pebbles which help them grind up their food in their gizzard, a specialized, muscular stomach. Because ostriches have this ability to grind food, they can eat things that other animals cannot digest.
An Emu, NOT an ostrich
Palaeotis - earliest known ostrich like bird found in current fossil records
The ostrich and evolution
Now I know you figure an ostrich is related to an emu, and you know that it is. You might be surprised, however, at just how distant a relation the ostrich is to the emu. As we've already discussed, the ostrich is the only bird in its Genus. You have to backtrack to the family Struthionidae in order to establish an ostriches relations to the emus, kiwis, and other large flightless birds. The ostrich is equally as related to birds of flight from the Tinamous order as they are to emus.
I suppose the notion that the largest of birds would lay the largest of eggs seems obvious. If you've had this notion, in this case you are correct. The ostrich egg is the largest of bird eggs in the natural world at this time.
While the Palaeotis was the earliest known flightless ancestor of an ostrich, what should be recognized is the term 'Palaeotis' represents a Genus, and not a species. So in other words, there were likely several species of Palaeotis, however, only one is known of. These birds and their fossils date back to the middle Eocene epoch of central Europe. The dinosaur ancestors of the Palaeotis could fly. What happened? Well, when the dinosaurs died out the ancestors no longer needed to fly to escape predators, and the use it or lose it aphorism was proved true yet again in nature. Without large dinosaur predators to fear the ancestors of the ostriches had unimpeded access to loads of food, and they grew heavier, their legs grew stronger, and the wings became vestigial.
An ostrich clan with zebras
Ostrich riding and racing
The ostrich is a social bird, and a good member of any African community. While the ostriches are opportunistic omnivores, they do not hunt down the small lizards and such they consume. They're more likely to be prey than to ever be a predator. An ostrich tribe of about ten birds is the norm, and the group is led by the dominant hen, protected by the dominant male. The dominant male ostrich serves to protect his fellow group members by utilizing his height, powerful eyes, and deep voice to spot dangers from afar, and keep his ostrich community alerted to them with his deep and loud voice. The dominant male ostrich and the ostrich family lends these early warning to dangers services to other animals too, as ostriches are fond of grazing with giraffes, zebras, and other mammalian herbivores who'd very much not like to be eaten by a lion or another kind of large cat.
This group and togetherness thing for the ostriches and others is only something that goes on during the warmer months. During winters the ostriches usually spend their time in pairs, or alone. This is a big divergence from the warmer months spent in groups averaging ten birds, but sometimes as large as one hundred.
Wild ostrich populations are in serious decline. Most of the world's ostriches are now domesticated birds. The upside to the wild ostrich situation is the ostriches still have around four million square African miles to live in. Another oddity, outside of Africa, is that there people race each other riding ostriches in the manner one uses to ride a horse. Ostriches are a lot less manageable than horses though.
An ostrich egg
Domesticating Ostriches, and Ostrich products
Before the last ice age there were ostriches far from Africa. China used to have ostriches way back then. The evidence for this is found in prehistoric drawings found in China, and other places far from Africa.
While the ostriches are the only members of the Struthio Genus today, the distant past, so far as is now known, had as many as fourteen species. Today ostriches are only native to Africa. This has not prevented persons in far flung places from raising ostriches. There are ostrich ranches in Alaska, even. These ostrich raising operations are the places where most human injuries from ostrich attacks happen. I'm sure the Africans in ostrich areas know good and well to keep their distances from them.
Why do people raise ostriches? Well, the meat is very lean, and I suppose it is rather tasty. The large eggs are very edible as well. Ostrich feathers are forever in demand, and so is the ostrich leather. Ostrich boots are pretty popular. We sure shouldn't be using or selling elephant skin. We're not going to run out of ostriches, of course, as they're domesticated in large parts of the world.
As for myself, I've got enough great pairs of leather boots so as to be doubtful I'll ever need another pair of boots. I can tell you one thing, though, that I always need another of - and that is a meal. I'm a pretty carnivorous sort. I'd love to buy some of these ostrich burger patties. Whenever I can manage to do that, I'll edit the page to tell you how I felt about it.
The ostriches were domesticated in order to save them from extinction. Luckily, the ostrich ranching industry was successful. People used to kill ostriches simply for their feathers. Domesticating ostriches has been hugely successful, and the wild ostrich populations have rebounded considerably for it all, as feathers can now be harvested from ostriches without injury to the birds.