Male and female ostrich. ©Getty Images

Male and female ostrich. ©Getty Images

Habitat and Distribution (where they are found)

The birds are native to Africa, living in open country, desert areas, and dry savannah (grassland).

Body and Appearance

Ostriches are the biggest and heaviest of all the birds. They grow to be about 2.75 metres tall and weigh up to 156.5 kilograms. Male ostriches have jet black feathers with white wing and tail plumage (big feathers) and bright red or blue skin. The females have grey-brown feathers and skin.

Running ostriches. ©Getty Images

Running ostriches. ©Getty Images

The ostrich is a flightless bird because it does not have a breastbone called a keeled sternum that flying birds have. Their feathers are also different from those of birds that fly: they are fluffy, and don't hook together like flight feathers. They are not waterproof, and in the rain an ostrich looks very shaggy and drenched.

However, ostriches can run very fast, up to 70 kilometres per hour. They can out- run predators such as lions, leopards, and hyenas. This is their first defence.

A large claw on each foot is used in defence. ©Getty Images

A large claw on each foot is used in defence. ©Getty Images

However, if cornered, ostriches also use their large two-toed feet to kick at enemies. The kick is powerful, and in addition, a 10cm claw on each foot can cause a big wound.

If they can't fly, what use are their wings?  An ostrich uses its wings to help it steer and balance when it is running fast, particularly when it turns. Wings are used as communication when a male and female are courting and mating. Wings are also held out like umbrellas to make shade for chicks!

 

An ostrich egg compared in size to chicken eggs. ©Getty Images

An ostrich egg compared in size to chicken eggs. ©Getty Images

Diet

Ostriches are omnivores. They eat fruit, seeds, leaves, shoots, and shrubs as well as insects and lizards. They get the water they need from the plants they eat. They also swallow stones to help them grind up and digest their food.

Life cycle

Ostrich eggs are big, 11 x 18 centimetres across and they weigh about 1400 grams, with very thick shells. They are white and shiny so that when exposed to the sun for short periods, they reflect the heat away so the eggs don't overheat.

The female sits on the eggs in the daytime. ©Getty Images

The female sits on the eggs in the daytime. ©Getty Images

A male ostrich protects the nest of eggs laid by several females that he has mated with.  The eggs are laid in a nest , usually a slight hollow scratched into the ground. Just one of the females that laid the eggs will help hatch them, sitting on them in the daytime. This female moves all her eggs into the centre of the nest, the safest spot because those around the edges have a lower survival rate.  A female's colours make her harder to see in the daylight as she sits on the nest. The male protects the eggs at nightime, when his dark colours make him hard to see.  The eggs hatch in about 40 days, and both the male and female look after the chicks. An ostrich can live to be about 40 years old in captivity.

Males help rear the chicks. ©Getty Images

Males help rear the chicks. ©Getty Images

Usefulness to Humans

Ostriches are farmed for their meat, feathers and skin. The feathers are used to make feather dusters or as decorations or additions to clothing. The skin makes a strong leather.

Conservation Status

They are not threatened and are in the category Least Concern.

Fun Fact

People say ostriches bury their heads in the sand. They don't! However, ostriches do lie on the ground with their necks stretched out along the ground. From a distance, because the head and neck are a similar colour to the ground, they are hard to see, and it can look like the head is buried in the ground.

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