How Big is an Ostrich?
The African Ostrich is the world’s biggest bird in every way. The biggest ostriches live in Northern Africa, and grow to about 9 feet tall (2.75 metres). They can weigh 340 pounds (over 150 kg)! As well as being the biggest birds, ostriches also lay bigger eggs than any other bird – a single ostrich egg weighs as much as two dozen chicken’s eggs! The picture here shows how big a large ostrich is, compared with an average human.
Ostrich Facts and Myths
Ostriches have been known since at least Roman times – it would be hard to miss such a large bird on the grassy plains of Africa, after all! They have long been hunted for their meat and feathers. In fact, they almost went extinct in the 18th century. Nowdays, ostrich products such as ostrich meat, ostrich leather and ostrich feathers come from ostrich farms – the wild ostriches are mostly left alone.
Ostriches don’t bury their head in the sand when frightened. What they do do, if they can’t run away, is lie down flat and still with their neck and head against the ground. Then, from a distance, they would look like a normal part fo the landscape. They have also been known to eat sand and pebbles – perhaps this helps them digest their food. Maybe some people once saw an ostrich doing these things, and mistook what they saw.
Ostriches can also run very fast – 43 miles per hour (70 km/h) in short bursts. That’s faster than a horse! And they can keep up speeds of 30 miles per hour (50 km/h) for over 30 minutes if they have to. Finally, if all else fails, an ostrich has a long claw on it toes, and can kick powerfully enough to kill a lion!
Ostrich and Chick – photo by “BMK” Scientists call the ostrich Struthio Camelus, which means “ostrich camel”. This is because the way it walks reminded early scientists of the camel. Ostriches are the only living members of the members of the bird “family” Struthionidae. They also belong to the bird “order” Struthioniformes. Birds that are in this order are also called the Ratites – this has nothing to do with rats, the word Ratite comes from the Latin word for “raft”. The chest bone of a ratite is flat, like a raft. Most birds have a special ridge jutting out of their chest bones – their strong wing muscles attach to the ridge.
So, as well as being the world’s biggest bird, Ostriches are
- The world’s biggest ratite
- The world’s biggest (and smallest, and only) Struthionidae.
The ostrich eats almost anything, but its natural diet is grass and plants, with the occasional insect or lizard thrown in.
Ostriches are not hunted any more. Instead, they are raised on ostrich farms or ostrich ranches. Ostriches are useful for their meat, feathers, skin and even their eggshell! Ostrich farms are also a tourist attraction in many places – I visited an ostrich park in Malaysia, and there was even an opportunity for kids to enjoy ostrich rides!
Ostrich eggs are huge! The picture on the left shows an ostrich egg next to a chicken’s egg. The eggshell is very thick and strong. It has to be strong if an animal weighing a sixth of a ton is going to sit on it! Ostrich eggshell is used for art – you can buy, for example, carved ostrich egg lamps and many other things. You can see many beautiful examples with a google image search.
Ostrich meat is red in color. It is also very healthy meat – it is low in fat, and high in minerals such as iron and calcium. If you are interested to try it, you might even be able to buy it at the supermarket!
Ostriches naturally drop their feathers at a certain time each year. Ostrich farmers can collect the feathers without harming the bird. Ostrich feathers are used to make very good feather dusters.
The skin of an ostrich makes very strong leather, which can be turned into wallets, handbags, boots, belts, and many others.
Ostrich racing is frowned upon now, but once upon a time was very popular. The picture below shows an old postcard with an ostrich cart racer.