The Ostrich (Struthio camelus) in the Birds.
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Struthio camelus

Ostrich (Struthio camelus)


The Ostrich (Struthio camelus) is the largest living bird. As the other big birds - Rheas, Emus and Cassowaries - it is studied in the group called the Ratites. Typical among these birds, including the Ostrich, is that they can not fly. They are adapted to a terrestrial live, with strong and well developed legs.


The ostrich meat and feathers have always been much desired by men, to the point were it has been extirpated by hunting in many places. But in other places, since the 1800's, ostrich ranches were established; South Africa and Australia becoming the leading breeders. As a result, domesticated breeds came to be, very similar as in the horses, dogs, chickens, etc. In recent years the demand has increased and now even the skin is used to make shoes.


In nature the Ostrich lives in the plains of Africa. It has also established as a feral animal in some regions of Australia.


The male ostriches are bigger than the females. The males reach a height of 8 feet 10 inches and a weight of 340 pounds. They also have black feathers covering the body; the feathers at the end of the wings and the tail are white. The females have gray feathers on the body.

Male Ostrich (Struthio camelus) without tail feathers.Female Ostrich (Struthio camelus)


When it is time to start breeding, the male defends an area or territory. He selects a place where the nest will be, a clearing on the ground which he scratches with the legs, and with a very visible dance he invites a female to form a family. He sits on the ground and raises a wing while lowering the other, moving the tail up and down at the same time. The wing and tail feathers are like fans, very attractive to humans and females ostriches as well.

Once the pair bonds, the female starts laying. Meanwhile the male invites, with the same dance, other females to lay eggs in the nest. Usually up to five of these females help laying eggs. With the permission of the pair's female, they go into the nest, lay the egg and leave. Once there are about twenty eggs in the nest, the male starts sitting on them at night. The female incubates during the day time.

There could be more than twenty eggs on the clutch. In nature there are some documented that exceed the seventy eggs, although usually no more than twenty chicks hatch. On the average, the pair's female laid about eight eggs. She positions the eggs within the nest; so she makes sure hers are in the center as to insure they will have better possibilities of hatching.

The eggs are white and big. They weight about three and a half pounds. Incubation takes about six weeks, hatching all the eggs the same day. Soon they leave the nest and by the third day they are on their way. When two families meet, the adults quarrel for the adoption of the little ones. One of the two pairs will end up with all the chicks. Often pairs are seen with more than a hundred chicks of all sizes. It is documented a group of close to four hundred young ostriches.


The family stays together for almost a year, until the next breeding season. The immature then form groups by themselves. By the third or fourth year they start breeding.

As danger approaches, they usually take elusive measures. But should the father have to face the aggressor, well, sorry for the aggressor. Documented cracking a man's head with a single kick, and it is known of the ostriches killing lions the same way. They are also able to inflict considerable pain with the beak.


Those that in the wild survive, have an estimated life span of forty years. In captivity they can reach fifty years, with some ostrich farmers estimating the seventy years.


In Spanish the Ostrich is called “Avestruz”. Some people call the Rhea “Avestruz Americano” and “Avestruz de América” which translate to “American Ostrich” and “Ostrich from the Americas”, in such references the Ostrich is referred to as “Avestruz Africano” (African Ostrich).

In Portuguese it is called “Avestruz”, and in French “Autruche”.

Anoother male Ostrich (Struthio camelus).

Data on the Ostrich


Plains of grass with some possible bushes. Semiarid terrain.

Social Structures:

In some places the adults group together to form bands of half a dozen to a dozen of them; sometimes even fifty are seen in one of these groups.
In other places the stay alone or in pairs.


Males usually reach from 6.5 to 8 feet in height; whereas females are from 5.5 to 6.5 feet tall.


Small in proportion to the body. Almost naked (without feathers).


Medium size in proportion to the head. Wide, compressed sideways.


Long and strong. Almost naked (without feathers).


Long and strong. The Ostrich is the only living bird with two toes on each foot.


Reach speeds of 37 to 43 miles/hr. According to some, it can sustain this speed for up to half an hour. Still, it is one of the fastest animals on land, and the fastest on two legs.


All year long in some parts. To the south of Africa in spring and fall.
Nests alone (opposed as in colonies or spread out groups).


Light cream to white. They measure about 6 by 4.7 inches.


About 42 days. Both sexes incubate; the male spends more time on the eggs.


Omnivorous. They feed mainly on grasses, leaves, seeds and other plant materials. They have been seen eating carrion.


Adults: The lions, although the ostriches usually get away if not surprised.
Eggs: The jackal.


Usually silent. Sometimes they emit a hiss. When breeding the males emit a sound similar to the roar of the lions but without the vibrations.



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Last revision: February 1, 2007
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