The sole member of its order of birds, the ostrich (Struthio camelus) is the tallest and heaviest living bird. Though flightless, ostriches, which are native to Africa, can sprint at speeds of up to 45 mph and jog for extended distances at a sustained pace of 30 mph. Ostriches have the largest eyes of any living terrestrial vertebrate, and their 3-pound eggs are the largest produced by any living bird. In addition to all this, the male ostrich is one of the few birds on Earth to possess a functioning penis.
Fast Facts: The Ostrich
Scientific Name: Struthio camelus
Common Names: The common ostrich
Basic Animal Group: Bird
Size: 5 feet 7 inches tall to 6 feet 7 inches tall
Weight: 200-300 pounds
Lifespan: 40-50 years
Habitat: Africa, including deserts, semi-arid plains, savannas, and open woodlands
Conservation Status: Vulnerable
Ostriches are the largest birds alive today, with adults weighing between 200 to 300 pounds. Adult males attain a height of up to 6 feet 7 inches tall; females are slightly smaller. Their immense body size and small wings make them incapable of flying. Ostriches have a remarkable tolerance to heat, withstanding temperatures up to 132 degrees Fahrenheit without much stress. Ostriches have been domesticated for only about 150 years, and are truly only partly domesticated, or, rather, are only domesticated for a short period of their lives.
Ostriches belong to a clan (but not order) of flightless birds known as the ratites. Ratites have smooth breastbones lacking keels, the bone structures to which flight muscles would normally be attached. Other birds classified as ratites include cassowaries, kiwis, moas, and emus.
Habitat and Range
Ostriches live in Africa and thrive in a wide variety of habitats, including deserts, semi-arid plains, savannas, and open woodlands. During their five-month breeding season, these flightless birds form flocks of five to 50 individuals, often intermingling with grazing mammals such as zebras and antelopes. When breeding season is over, this larger flock breaks down into small groups of two to five birds that care for the newborn hatchlings.
Diet and Behavior
Ostriches are omnivores, and thus eat mostly plant material, though at times they may also feed on insects and small vertebrates. Although they prefer plants-particularly roots, seeds, and leaves-they also eat locusts, lizards, snakes, and rodents. They have even been known to eat sand and pebbles, which helps them grind up their food inside their gizzard, a small pouch where food is crushed and ripped up before it reaches the stomach.
Ostriches don't need to drink water; they get all the water they need from the plants they eat. However, they will drink if they come across a watering hole.
Reproduction and Offspring
Male ostriches are called cocks or roosters, and females are called hens. A group of ostriches is called a flock. Flocks can consist of up to 100 birds, though most have 10 members, according to the San Diego Zoo. The group has a dominant male and a dominant female and several other females. Lone males come and go during mating season.
Ostriches lay 3-pound eggs, which measure some 6 inches in length and 5 inches in diameter, making them the title of largest egg produced by any living bird. Males and females sit on the eggs until they hatch, between 42 and 46 days. Male and female ostriches share the responsibility of raising their young. Ostrich offspring are larger than any other bird baby. At birth, chicks can be as big as chickens.rontav/Getty Images
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, ostriches are considered to be vulnerable and their population is declining, though their population is unknown. The Somali ostrich, in particular, is thought to be in rapid decline. The San Diego Zoo notes that although not threatened, the ostrich requires strict protection and farming to conserve the remaining wild populations.
- Bradford, Alina. “Ostrich Facts: The World's Largest Bird.” LiveScience, Purch, 17 Sept. 2014.
- “Ostrich.” San Diego Zoo Global Animals and Plants.
- “Frequently Asked Questions.” Frequently Asked Questions - American Ostrich Association.
- “The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.” IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.