The Ostrich

The Ostrich

The ostrich (Struthio camelus LINNAEUS, 1758) is a species of bird of the Struthionidae family.

It is the largest of the living birds, but unable to fly.

The scientific name of the ostrich (Struthio camelus) contains a juxtaposition that had already been made by the ancients, the one between the bird and the camel, in which one of the fundamental characteristics of the species is reflected. The ostrich, in fact, is a true and genuine

dweller of the desert and steppes and has structures and properties that exactly respond to the needs of the environment in which it lives.

It has a very robust body, a long and largely naked neck, a small and flat head, a straight beak, obtuse, slightly rounded in the front and flat at the tip; the jaws are foldable and open wide in a gash that reaches under the eye, and about halfway through the upper one, the nostrils open, wide and rather long.

The eyes are big and shiny, with the upper eyelid provided with eyelashes, the ears are naked, open, internally covered with filiform productions, the high and robust legs, completely naked, apart from some bristles that sprout on the thighs. The tarsi are covered with large scales and the legs have two fingers, the inside provided with a large, wide, and obtuse nail.

Although large, the wings are unusable for flight. Instead of the normal flight feathers, they are covered with long, floppy, and hanging feathers that are identical in the abundant tail. The rest of the body is covered by a floppy and curled plumage, which, in the middle of the chest, leaves a callosity of horny consistency uncovered.

Of very large size, the ostrich has a height of not less than two and a half meters, and a length, from the tip of the beak to the end of the tail, of at least one meter and eighty: its weight reaches 150 kg.

As for colour, in general it differs between the two sexes. The male has all the feathers of the trunk of a black-charcoal colour, those of the tail and of the wing white, a bright red neck and carnicine thighs; the females are grey-brown and white-dirty on the wings and tail and repeat the colouration of the companions in the brown eyes and in the yellow-horny beak.

The ostrich is the fastest running bird: it can reach a speed of up to 80 km/h, however in exceptional conditions peaks of over 100 km/h have been detected

The ostrich has only two toes, which have pads underneath that prevent the heavy bird from sinking into the sand.

Their tendency, developed especially in captivity, to peck and swallow everything they find, even the hardest and most indigestible things is very curious: a piece of brick, a shard, a stone, a piece of iron, everything attracts their attention and it is swallowed instantly as if it were a delicious morsel.

In the gizzard of a killed individual, very varied objects were found weighing over four kilograms: it was sand, tows and rags mixed with pieces of iron, coins, keys, nails, buttons and other of the most disparate substances. In captivity, then, one must take care not to let them approach broods and small birds: it may happen that they make an entire brood of chicks or ducklings disappear with the utmost ease, swallowing them quietly.

And in Namibia… it is said that diamonds were also found in the stomach of the ostrich!

The reproduction period begins more or less early depending on the region, but, in any case, always just before spring. For males, this period announces itself with the increase of excitement in behaviour and with the emergence of the tendency to fight bitterly to secure possession of some females. Their plumage appears brightly black, the skin of the thighs red; and strange, dark and raucous sounds come out of the uvula while they assume singular attitudes, destined to catch the attention of their companions and to woo them. The male crouches on the tarsi in front of the female, moves his head and neck, closes his beak, with almost convulsive but voluntary movements of the whole body, extraordinarily swells his throat, and pushes a large amount of air out of the lungs.

Many inaccurate information has long been preserved around the bird's habits as to its breeding process, probably caused by the difficulty encountered in discovering the nests, always carefully hidden, and in following the behaviour of the male and females. However, we know that these nests consist of a round hole made in the ground, wide enough for the brooding bird to completely cover it, and surrounded by a kind of embankment that is built by heaping a certain amount of earth with the feet. The female lays a good number of eggs, and since the mates of the same male provide for this, it is necessary to use the same nest, sometimes even more than twenty can be found.

Practically only the male is dedicated to the incubation: the companions replace him only exceptionally, and often the eggs, especially during the hottest hours of the day, are covered with sand and abandoned because their development process is carried out by the effect of the heat of the sun.

The young hatch after about six or seven weeks and, as soon as they are dry, they are led out of the nest in search of food. They have a very singular aspect, which brings them closer to hedgehogs than to birds, since their body is covered with rigid feathers, similar to the quills of hedgehogs, which, moving away from the body, diverge in all directions.

Nice and lovable, they run skilfully from birth, and are able to successfully search for food following the teachings of their parents; after about fourteen days, they have become so familiar with the environment and know how to juggle so well that they can be considered completely independent.

MYTH: Ostriches bury their heads in the sand when they are scared or threatened. ... WHY IT IS NOT TRUE: Ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand—they would not be able to breathe! But they do dig holes in the dirt to use as nests for their eggs. Several times a day, a bird puts her head in the hole and turns the eggs.