The African ostrich is the only bird that has two toes(didactyl) — all the other birds have three or four. An adult ostrich has an incredibly powerful kick, and have been known to severely injure or kill lions. They only kick forward, so that big toe with the long nail will likely disembowel or gouge the flesh of any predator.
An African ostrich is a fast bird and usually reach speeds of 70 km/h (43.5 mp/h). It is faster than most land predators. Why we say ‘most’ is because the only predator to catch them is the cheetah — although ostriches are usually not part of their usual diet, but there is a coalition of cheetah brothers that specialise in hunting ostrich and therefore, ostrich is included in their main diet.
An ostrich is the world’s largest bird, for example, an adult male can reach 2.7 metres (8.8 feet) and weigh about 200 kg (430 pounds) — too large to fly. So these birds have adapted to living ground only on the ground:
Their large wings are now used for display (like waving them to attract a mate), or display — like they open them and raise their tail and head to show they are dominant to a rival. They also use them to control their body temperature and can also hold them out to use for balance when they run.
Ostriches have the largest eggs of any living animal in the world — they weigh about 1.9 kg (4.2 pounds) and because they lay them on the ground, they have very thick and hard shells that only a hyena, usually the brown hyena, and sometimes lions can break with their mouth.
African ostrich legs are long and muscular — powerful weapons (as big toe is tipped with a very sharp and strong nail) and these great legs allow them to reach 70 kmh (43 mph).
African ostrich have brilliant eyesight and the largest eye of any living ground animal — 50 cm (2 inches) in diameter (‘diameter’ is a straight line passing from side to side — like from one side of the eye to the other/opposite side of the eye). They have such big eyes that there is little room for their brain — so, their brain is smaller than their eyes.
- We only see the smaller part, but look how big their eyes are (under the skin and imagine the skull).
All wild African ostriches, in their natural environment, live in semi-arid areas where there is a healthy supply of food and relatively open spaces so they can see predators heading their way, like lions and cheetahs.
Ostriches do not stick their head in the sand. They have acquired that totally false reputation by mistake — an optical illusion. African Ostriches make their nest on the ground — in a bit of a hollow. Both parents regularly turn the eggs so that the fetus stays loose and does not attach to one side of the egg. When they do this, if seen from a distance and the ground is not level, it looks as if they are hiding their head in the sand, when in fact, all they are doing is turning their eggs.
The ostrich belongs to a family of birds called ‘ratite’ — this means flightless birds. There were once a few more species in this family, but now only the biggest living bird, the ostrich is found in that family.
African Ostriches only have a few predators that eat the eggs. One of the most interesting is the Egyptian vulture found from the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa, but also East Africa to India. This is a small vulture, but oh, it is clever!
With a sharp flick of its head, this Egyptian vulture throws stones to crack open the thick-shelled ostrich eggs.
The ostrich is the largest living bird and there are 4 subspecies. If you are visiting Kenya you might see an ostrich with a pink neck and often also his legs — is he blushing, diseased, sick? None of those. He is showing us that he is ready to breed. This is the Masaai ostrich.
Ostriches are native to Africa. In the wild, they are not found in other countries, and if found there they have been introduced!