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Flightless Friday - Struthio camelus Edition

Flightless Friday is back, and it’s bringing in the big guns! Er...birds, not guns. Very big birds.

The Ostrich (Struthio camelus) is the heaviest, tallest and fastest (running) living bird. It is native to Africa but is farmed in different parts of the world and a wild population has been introduced to southern Australia. The North African Ostrich (Struthio camelus camelus) was once numerous enough to be distributed along all of northern Africa, but today can be found only in the Sahara and the Sahel. The Somali Ostrich (Struthio camelus molybdophanes) can be found from Somali to Kenya. The Masai Ostrich (Struthio camelus massaicus) overlaps some of the Somali Ostrich’s range in Kenya, but also extends through Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia. And the South African Ostrich (Struthio camelus australis) can be found in the Namib and Kalahari deserts.


Adult male Ostriches can stand up to 9 feet (2.75 meters) tall and weigh as much as 320 pounds (145 kg). Males have the distinct black and white plumage that most people think of first when they think of Ostriches. Females are slightly smaller, and their plumage is mottled brown. Chicks are born with soft light brown fuzz, with dark spots to help them camouflage. They have strong, muscled legs with broad feet, which help them reach speeds of up to 43 mph (70 km/h).

Those aren’t dinosaur feet, those are Ostrich feet! Ostriches use their speed to flee from predators, not to hunt prey of their own. They are grazers, feeding on grass, fruit, flowers, seeds and shrubs, with a little bit of protein in the form of insects. Like other large ratites, they swallow small stones to help them grind up food in their gizzards. Since many of them live in climate that is usually hot and dry, they use the water contained in the plants they eat to sustain them, although they love water and will drink and bathe in it when available.


Mating season for Ostriches begins in the spring and lasts all summer, but specific seasons vary by subspecies. Males will try to gather a harem of females by enticing them with a mating display, getting low to the ground and waving his wings back and forth. While males will mate with more than one female during a season, there is usually one female who is his primary partner. The females lay their eggs in a large communal nest, which the male and females take turns incubating. After about 45 days, the eggs will hatch, and while the male takes the lead in teaching the chicks to forage, females also help rear the offspring. Only about 15% of hatched chicks survive their first year.


Ostriches are currently considered to be a species of least concern by the IUCN, even though their population has historically declined. Humans have used the Ostrich for many different things over the years. Their eggshells have been used to carry water, their feathers for clothing and decoration, and their skin for leather. Wild Ostriches will usually run away from humans, but when cornered they can become extremely aggressive. They kick out with their massive feet and have been known to disembowel people.


Source for all images used in this post.

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