The African ostrich (Struthio camelus) is an amazing bird in many ways. This is the largest representative of birds, laying record-breaking large eggs. In addition, ostriches run faster than all other birds, reaching speeds of up to 65-70 km/h.
Origin of the species and description
The ostrich is the only living member of the Struthionidae family and the genus Struthio. Ostriches share their squad Struthioniformes with emu, rhea, kiwi and other ratites – smooth-bore (keelless) birds. The earliest fossil of an ostrich-like bird found in Germany has been identified as a Middle European Paleotis from the Middle Eocene — flightless bird 1.2 m high.
Video: African ostrich
Similar finds in the Eocene deposits of Europe and the Moocene deposits of Asia testify to the wide distribution of ostrich-like in the interval from 56.0 to 33.9 million years ago outside of Africa:
- on peninsula of Hindustan;
- in Western and Central Asia;
- in the south of Eastern Europe.
Scientists agreed that the flying ancestors of modern ostriches fed on the ground and were excellent sprinters. The extinction of the ancient pangolins gradually led to the disappearance of competition for food, so the birds became larger, and the ability to fly simply ceased to be necessary.
Appearance and features
Ostriches are classified as ratites — non-flying birds, with a flat sternum without a keel, to which the wing muscles are attached in other birds. At the age of one year, ostriches weigh about 45 kg. The weight of an adult bird is from 90 to 130 kg. The growth of sexually mature males (from 2-4 years old) ranges from 1.8 to 2.7 meters, and females & # 8212; from 1.7 to 2 meters. The average life expectancy of an ostrich is 30-40 years, although there are centenarians who live up to 50 years.
The strong legs of an ostrich are devoid of feathers. The bird has two toes on each foot (whereas most birds — have four), and the nail of the big inner toe resembles a hoof. This feature of the skeleton arose in the course of evolution and determines the excellent sprinting capabilities of ostriches. Muscular legs help the animal to accelerate to 70 km/h. The wings of ostriches with a span of about two meters have not been used for flight for millions of years. But giant wings attract the attention of partners during mating season and provide shade for chickens.
Adult ostriches have amazing heat tolerance and can withstand temperatures up to 56 ° C without much stress.
The soft and loose feathers of adult males are mostly black, with white tips at the ends of the wings and tail. Females and young males are grayish brown. The head and neck of ostriches are almost naked, but covered with a thin layer of down. The eyes of an ostrich reach the size of billiard balls. They take up so much space in the skull that an ostrich’s brain is smaller than any of its eyeballs. Although the ostrich egg — the largest of all eggs, relative to the size of the bird itself, it is far from in the first place. An egg weighing a couple of kilograms is only 1% heavier than a female. In contrast, the kiwi egg, the largest compared to the mother, makes up 15-20% of her body weight.
Where does the African ostrich live?
The inability to fly limits the African ostrich’s range to the savannah, semi-arid plains, and open grasslands of Africa. In a dense forest tropical ecosystem, a bird is simply not able to notice the threat in time. But in the open space, strong legs and excellent eyesight allow the ostrich to easily detect and overtake many predators.
Four distinct subspecies of the ostrich live on the continent south of the Sahara Desert. The North African ostrich lives in the northern part of Africa: from the west coast to certain areas in the east. Somali and Masai subspecies of ostriches live in the eastern part of the continent. The Somali ostrich is also common north of the Maasai, in the Horn of Africa. The South African ostrich lives in southwestern Africa.
Another recognized subspecies, the Middle Eastern or Arabian ostrich, was discovered in parts of Syria and the Arabian Peninsula as recently as 1966. Its representatives were slightly inferior in size to the North African ostrich. Unfortunately, due to severe desiccation, large-scale poaching and the use of firearms in this region, the subspecies was completely wiped off the face of the earth.
What does the African ostrich eat?
The basis of the diet of ostriches is a variety of herbaceous plants, seeds, shrubs, fruits, flowers, ovaries and fruits. Sometimes the animal catches insects, snakes, lizards, small rodents, i.e. such prey that they are able to swallow whole. In especially dry months, the ostrich can go without water for several days, content with the moisture that plants contain.
Since ostriches have the ability to grind food, for which they are used to swallowing small pebbles, and are not spoiled by an abundance of vegetation, they can eat that other animals are unable to digest. Ostriches “eat” almost everything that comes their way, often swallowing bullet cartridges, golf balls, bottles and other small items.
Character and Lifestyle Features
In order to survive, the African ostrich is nomadic, constantly moving in search of enough berries, herbs, seeds and insects. Ostrich communities, as a rule, have their camps near water bodies, so they can often be seen near elephants and antelopes. Such a neighborhood is especially beneficial for the latter, because the loud cry of an ostrich often warns animals of possible danger.
In the winter months, birds roam in pairs or alone, but during the breeding season and during the monsoon rains, they invariably unite in groups from 5 to 100 individuals. These groups often travel in the wake of other herbivores. The group is dominated by one main male, who defends the territory. He may have one or more dominant females.
Social structure and reproduction
Ostriches usually live in groups of 5-10 individuals. The head of the herd is the dominant male, who guards the occupied territory, and his female. The loud and deep warning signal of a male from afar may well be mistaken for a lion’s roar. In the breeding season (March to September), the male performs a ritual mating dance, shaking his wings and tail feathers. If the chosen one is favorable, the male prepares a shallow hole to equip the nest, in which the female will lay about 7-10 eggs.
Each egg is 15 cm long and weighs 1.5 kg. Ostrich eggs are the largest in the world!
A married couple of ostriches incubate eggs in turn. To avoid finding the nest, eggs are incubated by females during the day and — males. The fact is that the gray, discreet plumage of the female merges with the sand, while the black male is almost invisible at night. If the eggs can be saved from the raids of hyenas, jackals and vultures, after 6 weeks chicks are born. Ostriches are born the size of a chicken and grow as much as 30 cm every month! By six months, young ostriches reach the size of their parents.
Natural enemies of the African ostrich
In nature, ostriches have few enemies, because the bird is armed with a rather impressive arsenal: powerful paws with claws, strong wings and a beak. Grown up ostriches turn out to be the prey of predators infrequently, only when they manage to ambush the bird and suddenly attack from the rear. Most often, the danger threatens clutches with offspring and newborn chicks.
In addition to jackals, hyenas, and vultures destroying nests, defenseless chicks are attacked by lions, leopards and African hyena dogs. Completely defenseless newborn chicks can be eaten by any predator. Therefore, ostriches have learned to be cunning. At the slightest danger, they fall to the ground and freeze without moving. Thinking that the chicks are dead, predators bypass them.
Although an adult ostrich is able to defend itself against many enemies, in case of danger it prefers to flee. It should be noted, however, that ostriches exhibit such behavior only outside the nesting period. Hatching masonry and subsequently taking care of the offspring, they turn into desperately bold and aggressive parents. During this period of time, it is out of the question to leave the nest.
The ostrich reacts instantly to any potential threat. To intimidate the enemy, the bird opens its wings, and if necessary, rushes at the enemy and tramples him with its paws. With one blow, an adult male ostrich may well break the skull of any predator, add to this the enormous speed that the bird develops quite naturally. Not a single inhabitant of the savannah dares to engage in open combat with an ostrich. Only a few take advantage of the bird’s shortsightedness.
Hyaenas and jackals organize real raids on ostrich nests and while some distract the attention of the victim, others steal the egg from the rear.
Population and species status
In the 18th century, ostrich feathers were so popular among women that ostriches began to disappear from North Africa. If not for artificial breeding, which began in 1838, the largest bird in the world by today would probably have died out completely.
Currently, the African ostrich is listed in the IUCN Red Book, as the wild population is steadily declining. The subspecies is threatened by habitat loss due to human intervention: the expansion of agriculture, the construction of new settlements and roads. In addition, birds are still hunted for their feathers, skin, ostrich meat, eggs and fat, which are believed in Somalia to cure AIDS and diabetes.
African Ostrich Conservation
The population of the wild African ostrich, due to human intervention in the natural environment and the constant persecution that it is subjected to on the continent, not only for valuable plumage, but also for the extraction of eggs and meat for food, is gradually declining. Just a century ago, ostriches inhabited the entire periphery of the Sahara – and these are 18 countries. Over time, the figure decreased to 6. Even within these 6 states, the bird is fighting for survival.
SCF — The Sahara Conservation Foundation launched an international appeal to save this unique population and return the ostrich to the wild. To date, the Saharan Conservation Fund and its partners have made significant strides in the conservation of the African ostrich. The organization has taken a number of measures to build new nursery buildings, conducted a series of consultations on the breeding of birds in captivity, and provided assistance to the Niger National Zoo in breeding ostriches.
As part of the project, work was carried out to create a full-fledged nursery in the village of Kelle in the east countries. Thanks to the support of the Ministry of Environment of Niger, dozens of birds bred in nurseries were released into the territories of national reserves into their natural habitat.
You can see a real African ostrich not only on the African continent. Although a huge number of ostrich breeding farms are located there – in the Republic of South Africa. Today, ostrich farms can be found in America, Europe and even Russia. Numerous domestic “safari” farms invite visitors to get acquainted with the proud and amazing bird without leaving the country.