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Why do ostriches have wings if they don’t fly?
Even though ostriches can’t fly they use their wings like rudders to help keep balance, steer and change direction when running.
The ostrich is the fastest flightless bird and can reach sprinting speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour. The ostrich also uses its wings for displays of courtship and dominance. Males have black coloured feathers; females have tan, honey-coloured feathers.
Ostriches are found widespread across central and southern Africa where they need to be fast enough to outrun the many carnivores they share their habitat with.
Does an ostrich really bury its head in the sand?
Contrary to popular myth the ostrich does not bury its head in the sand. When feeling threatened an ostrich will sit down and tuck its head and neck under its abundant skirt of dark feathers, or flatten its long neck along the ground. In this position the lighter coloured neck and head blend in with the dust and soil of the environment, and from a distance to a carnivore the ostrich looks like an uninteresting, not-very-tasty rock. Because the head and neck can’t be seen when it is camouflaged and/or hidden and only the body is visible, the myth and idiomatic expression ‘to bury one’s head in the sand’ came about.
The average life span of an ostrich is between 30 – 40 years. Ostriches typically live and move in small herds, with the dominant ‘alpha’ male taking care of the group and mating with the hens.
A female ostrich lays 7-10 eggs at a time, however in an ostrich group there is a communal nest in which all hens lay their eggs. At any one time there can be up to 60 eggs from different hens in the same nest, which hatch between 42-46 days. The dominant hen places her eggs in the middle of the communal nest to ensure they are properly incubated and give them a greater chance of survival. She and the dominant male both share the responsibility of incubating the eggs in the communal nest and care for the chicks once they have hatched. Typically the female sits on the nest during the day, her earthy colours blending into the surrounds, while the darker plumed male sits on the nest throughout the night.
Ostriches are versatile eaters and will feed on whatever is available within their environment, they are however typically omnivorous. Ostriches like to feed on a variety of plants, grasses, leaves, roots and seeds and will also eat small lizards, rodents, snakes and insects when available. Ostriches also eat small stones, pebbles, sand and grit to help grind up and digest their food more easily, pretty much the same way as a pestle and mortar works.
- One ostrich egg weighs approximately the same as two dozen chicken eggs
- Ostriches have the largest eyes of any other land animal. An ostrich eye measures almost 5cm across and is larger than its brain
- Ostriches have two toes; emus have three
- Adult ostriches can grow to heights of anywhere between 2-3 metres tall
- Werribee Open Range Zoo
- Healesville Sanctuary
- Melbourne Zoo