Creature Feature – Ostrich

THE OSTRICH
Struthio camelus

Ostriches can be found from the Sahara deserts southward throughout Africa. They live in open, semiarid country with relatively short grass and avoid tall grass and dense trees. The ostrich is omnivorous and eats insects, small reptiles, rodents, fruit, plants, and seeds. Most of their water is obtained from succulent plants, allowing them to live in arid areas.

Ostriches are the largest and heaviest of the living birds, and do not fly. Adult males stand 8 feet tall and weigh around 300 pounds. Females are smaller, standing about 5 feet tall and weighing around 250 pounds. Males have mostly black plumage with white wings and tail. The female is a drab brown, with wings and tail a dirty white. Ostriches live 30-40 years, though in captivity they have lived up to 50 years.

The ostrich lays the largest egg of any living bird species, but it is also one of the smallest in relation to the size of the bird. The egg is 6-8 inches long and weighs up to 3 pounds. Ostrich egg cups have been found in 3000-year-old Assyrian graves, and ancient Egyptians, Chinese and Greeks used the shells as utensils. The Sudanese and Bushmen still use ostrich egg shell to make necklaces and bracelets, or to carry water in.

Ostriches are not globally threatened, but the species requires strict protection in some areas. Until the 1900s the ostrich was common in most of Africa and southwest Asia, but habitat destruction, overgrazing, hunting, and the collection of eggs and feathers have reduced the population and range considerably. Attempts have been made to reintroduce the ostrich in Jordan and Israel.

Interesting Facts:

  • Ostriches can the domesticated and trained for riding and to pull carts, but don’t make good draft animals as they tire easily and then just squat down and quit.
  • The ostrich is the only bird that has two toes. Their heavy 4 inch claws can easily rip a lion or a man wide open.
  • Ostrich feathers have been used for adornment for at least 5000 years. Egyptians used them as a symbol of justice, due to their perfect symmetry. The knights of the Crusades used them to decorate their helmets.
  • The ostrich eye is about 2 inches in diameter, and is the largest eye of any terrestrial vertebrate.
  • Ostriches do not bury their head in sand, but may sit down and stretch its head and neck out, “playing possum” to avoid predators.
  • It takes about 40-45 minutes to hard boil an ostrich egg. The egg equals about 2 dozen chicken eggs and makes an omelet for about 10 people.

Information courtesy of www.mnzoo.org

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