Up until the mid 20th century, ostriches occurred naturally in southwestern Asia, the Arabian peninsula, and Africa. They have since been hunted to extinction except in sub-Saharan Africa.
Ostriches are currently restricted to drier and sandy regions of central and southern Africa.
Unmistakeable. Huge (stands 2 m tall), terrestrial bird. Males are black and white, females gray brown.
Exact pattern varies geographically. Ostriches form bisexual groups with a complex structure. Territorial males compete for flocks of 3 to 5 hens. Elaborate displays, including hisses and other noises, are often used by males to intimidate each other. Once divided into mating groups, ostriches in some areas use communal nests to hold anywhere from 15 to 60 eggs. The nest is a hole scraped in bare ground. The average egg is 6 inches in length, 5 inches in width, weighs about 3 pounds, and is shiny and whitish in color. Eggs take approximately 40 days to hatch. Caring for their eggs is divided up between males and females. Males watch over them during the night, and the various females of the mating group take turns during the day.
Ostriches live in flocks of 5 to 50, and they are normally found in the company of grazing animals like antelope and zebras. Flocks occupy territories of 2-15 sq km during the breeding season, which lasts around 5 months. Smaller, looser groups of 2-5 members are formed outside of the breeding season.
Another characteristic of ostriches is that they are very fond of water. They frequently take baths when given the opportunity.
Sometimes, in order to escape detection, ostriches may lie on the ground with their necks outstretched. This peculiar behavior probably gave rise to the myth that ostriches bury their heads in the ground.
Ostriches are herbivorous living mostly on plant matter, but they occasionally eat animal remains left by carnivorous predators. They are very selective feeders, taking the seed heads of grasses and certain flowers and seeds. They sometimes eat locusts. An ostrich in captivity requires 3.5 kg of food per day. They can survive without water for long periods of time.
Ostriches were often killed for the use of their hides, which makes a fine leather, and their feathers. Their eggs, which are equivalent to 24 fowl eggs, are eaten by animals as well as humans. African tribes use ostrich shells as a means of holding water for bathing and drinking.
Ostriches were almost wiped out in the 18th century due to hunting for feathers. By the middle of the 19th century, the practice of farming ostriches began to spread. This enabled ostriches to be domesticated and plucked, instead of being hunted and killed. Currently, the demand for ostrich feathers has lessened greatly, and ostriches seem to have a secure population.
Ostriches are the largest living birds. Ostriches do well in captivity and may live up to 50 years both in and out of the wild. Their powerful legs are their main defense against natural enemies. They can achieve speeds of up to 40 miles per hour, and if cornered they can deliver a powerful blow with their legs.
Keenan Donegan (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.
uses sound to communicate
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
flesh of dead animals.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
an animal that mainly eats seeds
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
associates with others of its species; forms social groups.
uses touch to communicate
defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement
A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.
A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.
A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.
uses sight to communicate
Encyclopedia Americana. volume 21. Grolier Inc., 1994 (pages 117-118).
Britannica. volume 8. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1994 (pages 1037-8).
Brown, L. H., E. K. Urban, K. Newman. 1982. The Birds of Africa. Academic Press, London.