Seeing animals in their natural habit is a wonderful experience. It is even more interesting and fascinating when you know something more about those animals to entirely understand their behaviors and appreciate your safari even better.
During safaris in southern and eastern Africa, you might be able to spot several different wild animals, including lions, giraffes, elephants, and rhinos. All of these are magnificent and beautiful animals, but not many are as strange and interesting as ostriches.
You might think that there is not a lot to learn about ostriches. I mean, yes, they are big, yes they don’t fly but what else would there be to be surprised about such a bird? Well, keep reading to find it out. You might be surprised to learn some interesting facts about ostriches.
Ostriches are fascinating birds, with some of nature’s strangest physical and behavioral oddities characterizing them. Not only their physical appearance is unique, with their characteristic long legs and neck protruding from a round body.
Ostriches also hold the record of being the largest and heaviest bird in the world, making flying impossible for these birds. They can weigh up to 150 kilograms and can measure up to 2.7 meters in length. Not bad for “just” a bird, no?
They are known to lay the largest egg on the planet, which can come to weigh around 1.3 kilograms.
Interestingly, contrary to all the other birds on our planet, the ostrich is the only didactyl species, (meaning that it only has two toes for foot), since all the other birds have at least three or four toes. Having two toes helps ostriches running faster.
But it doesn’t stop here, the list of oddities and curiosities is a lot longer for ostriches. Being flightless has adapted ostrich to thrive on land. Ostriches are commonly found in savanna, the desert and open woodlands of central and southern Africa. They have muscular, long legs made for running (or to kick predators if the situation requires it!). Ostriches are champions at running: these animals hold the record of being the fastest bird and the fastest animal on two legs. An ostrich can sprint at more than 70 kilometers per hour and run away its predators gracefully. Their high endurance allows them to run at a steady speed of almost 50 kilometers per hour for up to half an hour.
Furthermore, their strong kick is known for its power: a forward kick might kill a human or any potential predator, if necessary. Ostriches are indeed well equipped physically!
Ostriches lay the largest size of eggs than any other bird. For comparison, think than one ostrich egg approximately weighs as much as two dozen chicken eggs. A female ostrich can lay an average of 15 eggs per month during the dry months between February and June.
Interestingly enough, ostriches have eyes that are bigger than its brain. That might mean that they are probably not the cleverest animal in the savanna, but for sure they’ll be able to see their predators and have great location awareness. Their heightened eyesight and hearing allow ostriches to sense their predators from very far away. They can see clearly at a distance of as far as 3.5 kilometers. This species holds another record: having the biggest eye size than any other animal.
Once again, there is more to learn about ostriches. These animals have quite special feeding habits too.
Ostriches are omnivores and they eat both vegetation and meat, even though they most commonly feed on plants such as roots, leaves, and seeds. Occasionally, they might eat snakes. locusts and small rodents too. However, because they don’t have teeth, ostriches also need to eat pebbles and sand to grind their food. On average an adult ostrich might carry as much as one kilogram of stones inside its stomach (and they still run fast!). The ability to grind food with stones offer to ostriches the possibilities to eat different kinds of food that other animals are not able to digest.
So far so good, but did you know that ostriches have three stomachs? Would you believe it?
Indeed, this is a fun fact about the ostrich that not many are aware of. These animals do have three stomachs and an abnormally long intestine which requires at least 36 hours to digest the food ingested. The three stomachs all serve different functions. The glandular stomach takes the role of the missing gall bladder and empties into a muscular stomach which is called “ventriculus”. The ventriculus is where the stones and pebbles they eat to break down food are stored. From here, the food is then passed to the small intestine. You can see now why this long and complex process needs such a long time! For this reason, unlike the rest of the bird species, who store urine and feces together, ostriches secrete urine separated from feces. The scientific community is not very clear about the reason for such a complex digestive system. It might be to process the stones and pebbles ingested or to allow ostriches to survive with minimal calorie intake.
There are also some misconceptions about these fascinating birds. For instance, there is a common popular belief according to which ostriches bury their heads in the sand to avoid danger. However, they do stick their heads in the sand only to pick up pebbles and little stones to aid in the digestion of the food these birds eat. Another explanation is that ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand, rather they lie down with their heads against the ground as an attempt to hide and mimetic with the sand.
Ostriches can go without water for several days, as the water they ingest through food is sufficient for their survival.
As you can see ostriches are indeed fascinating birds. There are four existing subspecies of ostriches but estimates show that their population has drastically declined during the last hundred years. They can be found in many national parks in Subsaharan Africa.
Now that you know more about these amazing animals, seeing one in the wild must be even more impressive!