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Animal Data > Ostrich

(Struthio camelus)

Status Distribution Sexually Mature
Declining Formerly widespread throughout Africa, Syria and Arabia. Now confined to East African national parks/game reserves, the dry S.African bushveld, and Namib desert. 3 - 4 years
Number of Young Gestation Life Span
8 42 days 40 years

(Click for larger image)

The ostrich is a remarkably adaptable bird, able to live in a variety of habitats from tall-grass savannah and bush to mountains and deserts. With its excellent eyesight, acute hearing and incredible running ability, (it has the stamina of hunting dogs and can reach speeds of 64 km/h.) it is most suited to life on the African plains. Here, over long distances, it can outrun most of the carnivores, using its reduced wings for changing direction, braking and balance. Having only 2 toes minimises contact with the ground, thereby aiding speed. Even month old chicks are capable of running at 56 km/h.

With its acute senses the ostrich often acts as an unintentional but reliable look-out for many grazing animals such as zebras, antelope and gazelles. It is migratory in habit as it needs to find drinking water, though in dry spells it can rely on obtaining moisture from plants. Its beak is used as an all-purpose tool, for pulling up grass, uprooting bushes and catching lizards and other small animals. The social life of the ostrich is one of the most complex in the animal world. The polygamous males have up to 6 females, and they all live together in small troops. During the mating season each male attracts the females by a courtship dance involving head rolling, wing beating and booming calls. Up to 8 eggs are laid by each hen in a scrape in the ground. Incubation is shared by both parents, only one hen being chosen for the job. After hatching, which may take several hours, the chicks stay close to the parents and in a couple of days follow them around. In this way the correct behaviour for every situation is learnt. The drab juvenile plumage lasts for 2 years, after which the young cocks take on the characteristic black and white plumage.

Main Features

The largest living bird, the male weighs more than 150kg and stands almost 3 metres high. The reduced wings are useless for flying. The head is short and flat with a deeply cleft beak. The long neck, like the head, is covered with small degenerate feathers giving a naked appearance. The long, unfeathered legs are particularly muscular. The oval grey-white or ivory eggs are the largest of any living bird, equivalent to 25 hen's eggs and weighing 1.5kg.

In Captivity

The continued existence of ostrich farms, where the birds provide plumes, meat and leather, has paradoxically helped to save the birds from total extinction. Ostrich farming is now taking off in Britain. Marwell, due to its excellent record of breeding ostrich, has contributed birds, to be used as breeding parents, to the venture.

©2009 Marwell Wildlife