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The largest living bird stands up to 8 feet high and weighs between 200 and 285 pounds. The plumage of the male is black except for the white plumes on the wings and tail. The plumage of the female is brown with pale edging to the feathers. The head, most of the neck and the legs are naked, but the eyelids have long, black eyelashes. There are two strong toes on each foot, the longest being armed with a large claw.
An ostrich's strong legs allow it to run at speeds of 40 to 50 miles per hour. Those legs can also deliver a kick powerful enough to actually disable or seriously injure most any predator.
Distribution and Habitat
Up until the mid-20th century, ostriches were common throughout the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula and Africa. They have since, however, been hunted to extinction except for the drier sandy regions of sub-Saharan Africa.
Ostriches are extremely wary, their long necks enabling them to detect disturbances from quite a distance. Although they are not really social birds they do form into large herds on occasion. During wet spells the herds break up into family groups consisting of a breeding pair with chicks and immatures. The herd is led by a cock or hen that chooses grazing grounds and makes decisions as to when to move.
Breeding takes place at any time of the year, depending on the time of the rainy season. Males establish territories away from the communal feeding grounds, where they are later joined by the females. Although a male may have up to five hens in his harem, he will focus his courtship on only one female at a time.
The nest is little more than a shallow scrape in the ground. Each female lays 6 to 8 eggs which are about 6 inches long and weigh up to 2½ pounds. Several females may lay eggs in the same nest, but only the male and lead female will guard and incubate the eggs.
ostrich hen guarding the nest and eggs
Towards the end of the 6-week incubation period the most advanced eggs are rolled into pits on the edge of the nest, which helps synchronize hatching. The chicks can run almost as soon as they hatch, and can attain a speed of 35 mph at barely one month of age. When they leave their parents they form large bands, breeding at 4 to 5 years of age.
Ostriches eat shoots, leaves, flowers and seeds, as well as the occasional insect.
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This page was last updated on August 31, 2018.