The ostrich or common ostrich (
Struthio camelus) is either one or two
species of large flightless birds native to Africa, the only living
member(s) of the genus Struthio, which is in the ratite family. In
Somali ostrich (
Struthio molybdophanes) was recognized as a
The common ostrich shares the order
Struthioniformes with the kiwis,
emus, rheas, and cassowaries. However, phylogenetic studies have shown
that it is the sister group to all other members of
thus the flighted tinamous are the sister group to the extinct
moa. It is distinctive in its appearance, with a long neck and
legs, and can run at up to about 70 km/h (19 m/s;
43 mph), the fastest land speed of any bird. The common
ostrich is the largest living species of bird and lays the largest
eggs of any living bird (extinct elephant birds of
Madagascar and the
giant moa of
New Zealand laid larger eggs).
The common ostrich's diet consists mainly of plant matter, though it
also eats invertebrates. It lives in nomadic groups of 5 to 50 birds.
When threatened, the ostrich will either hide itself by lying flat
against the ground, or run away. If cornered, it can attack with a
kick of its powerful legs. Mating patterns differ by geographical
region, but territorial males fight for a harem of two to seven
The common ostrich is farmed around the world, particularly for its
feathers, which are decorative and are also used as feather dusters.
Its skin is used for leather products and its meat is marketed
commercially, with its leanness a common marketing point.
3 Distribution and habitat
4 Behaviour and ecology
4.1 "Head in the sand" myth
5.2.1 Heart anatomy
5.2.2 Blood composition
5.3.1 Physiological challenges
5.3.2 System overview
188.8.131.52 Water intake and turnover
184.108.40.206 Nasal glands
5.4.1 Physical adaptations
5.4.2 Internal adaptations
5.4.3 Breathing adaptations
6 Status and conservation
7 Ostriches and humans
7.1 Hunting and farming
9 Further reading
10 External links
Common ostriches usually weigh from 63 to 145 kilograms
(139–320 lb), or as much as two adult humans. Ostriches
of the East African race (S. c. massaicus) averaged 115 kg
(254 lb) in males and 100 kg (220 lb) in females, while
the nominate subspecies (S. c. camelus) was found to average
111 kg (245 lb) in unsexed adults. Exceptional male
ostriches (in the nominate subspecies) can weigh up to 156.8 kg
(346 lb). At sexual maturity (two to four years), male common
ostriches can be from 2.1 to 2.8 m (6 ft 11 in to
9 ft 2 in) in height, while female common ostriches range
from 1.7 to 2.0 m (5 ft 7 in to 6 ft 7 in)
tall. New chicks are fawn in colour, with dark brown spots.
During the first year of life, chicks grow at about 25 cm
(9.8 in) per month. At one year of age, common ostriches weigh
approximately 45 kilograms (99 lb). Their lifespan is up to
The feathers of adult males are mostly black, with white primaries and
a white tail. However, the tail of one subspecies is buff. Females and
young males are greyish-brown and white. The head and neck of both
male and female ostriches is nearly bare, with a thin layer of
down. The skin of the female's neck and thighs is pinkish
gray, while the male's is gray or pink dependent on subspecies.
Close-up of head: Note the highly modified feathers
Close-up of head: Note the long eyelashes to protect the eyes
Foot: Note the frequently missing nail on the outer toe
Claws on the wings
male running in Namibia
The long neck and legs keep their head up to 2.8 m (9 ft)
above the ground, and their eyes are said to be the largest of any
land vertebrate: 50 mm (2.0 in) in diameter; helping
them to see predators at a great distance. The eyes are shaded from
sunlight from above. However, the head and bill are relatively
small for the birds' huge size, with the bill measuring 12 to
14.3 cm (4.7 to 5.6 in).
Their skin varies in colour depending on the subspecies, with some
having light or dark gray skin and others having pinkish or even
reddish skin. The strong legs of the common ostrich are unfeathered
and show bare skin, with the tarsus (the lowest upright part of the
leg) being covered in scales: red in the male, black in the female.
The tarsus of the common ostrich is the largest of any living bird,
measuring 39 to 53 cm (15 to 21 in) in length. The bird
has just two toes on each foot (most birds have four), with the nail
on the larger, inner toe resembling a hoof. The outer toe has no
nail. The reduced number of toes is an adaptation that appears to
aid in running, useful for getting away from predators. Common
ostriches can run at a speed over 70 km/h (43 mph) and can
cover 3 to 5 m (9.8 to 16.4 ft) in a single stride. The
wings reach a span of about 2 metres (6 ft 7 in), and the wing
chord measurement of 90 cm (35 in) is around the same size
as for the largest flying birds.
The feathers lack the tiny hooks that lock together the smooth
external feathers of flying birds, and so are soft and fluffy and
serve as insulation. Common ostriches can tolerate a wide range of
temperatures. In much of their habitat, temperatures vary as much as
40 °C (72 °F) between night and day. Their temperature
control relies in part on behavioural thermoregulation. For example,
they use their wings to cover the naked skin of the upper legs and
flanks to conserve heat, or leave these areas bare to release heat.
The wings also function as stabilizers to give better maneuverability
when running. Tests have shown that the wings are actively involved in
rapid braking, turning and zigzag maneuvers. They have 50–60
tail feathers, and their wings have 16 primary, four alular and
20–23 secondary feathers.
The common ostrich's sternum is flat, lacking the keel to which wing
muscles attach in flying birds. The beak is flat and broad, with a
rounded tip. Like all ratites, the ostrich has no crop, and it
also lacks a gallbladder. They have three stomachs, and the caecum
is 71 cm (28 in) long. Unlike all other living birds, the
common ostrich secretes urine separately from faeces. All other
birds store the urine and faeces combined in the coprodeum, but the
ostrich stores the faeces in the terminal rectum. They also have
unique pubic bones that are fused to hold their gut. Unlike most
birds, the males have a copulatory organ, which is retractable and
20 cm (8 in) long. Their palate differs from other ratites
in that the sphenoid and palatal bones are unconnected.
The common ostrich was originally described by
Carl Linnaeus from
Sweden in his 18th-century work,
Systema Naturae under its current
binomial name. Its scientific name is derived from Latin, struthio
meaning "ostrich" and camelus meaning "camel", alluding to its dry
The common ostrich belongs to the ratite order Struthioniformes. Other
members include rheas, emus, cassowaries, moa, kiwi and the largest
known bird ever, the now-extinct elephant bird (Aepyornis). However,
the classification of the ratites as a single order has always been
questioned, with the alternative classification restricting the
Struthioniformes to the ostrich lineage and elevating the other
Four living subspecies are recognised:
Common ostrich (S. camelus) complex:
Subspecies of common ostrich
North African ostrich
North African ostrich (S. c. camelus), also called the red-necked
ostrich or Barbary ostrich
Lives in North Africa. Historically it was the most widespread
subspecies, ranging from
Sudan in the east throughout the
Mauritania in the west, and north to Egypt
and southern Morocco, respectively. It has now disappeared from large
parts of this range, and it only remains in 6 of the 18 countries
where it originally occurred, leading some to consider it Critically
Endangered. It is the largest subspecies, at 2.74 m
(9.0 ft) in height and up to 154 kilograms (340 lb) in
weight. The neck is pinkish-red, the plumage of males is black and
white, and the plumage of females is grey.
Northern Africa: Algeria, Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt,
Ethiopia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Togo
Western Africa: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria
South African ostrich
South African ostrich (S. c. australis), also commonly known as
black-necked ostrich or southern ostrich
Is found south of the rivers
Zambezi and Cunene. It is farmed for its
meat, leather and feathers in the
Little Karoo area of Cape
Southern Africa: Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of the Congo,
Namibia, South Africa,
Zambia and Zimbabwe
Masai ostrich (S. c. massaicus), also known as the pink-necked ostrich
or East African ostrich
It has some small feathers on its head, and its neck and thighs are
pink. During the mating season, the male's neck and thighs become
brighter. Its range is essentially limited to southern
eastern Tanzania and
Ethiopia and parts of southern Somalia.
Eastern Africa: Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia,
Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia,
Tanzania and Uganda
Arabian ostrich (S. c. syriacus), also known as Syrian ostrich or
Middle Eastern ostrich
Was formerly very common in the Arabian Peninsula, Syria, and
Iraq; it became extinct around 1966.
Western Asia: Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi
Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen
Somali ostrich (S. molybdophanes), also known as blue-necked ostrich
Found in southern Ethiopia, northeastern Kenya, and Somalia. The
neck and thighs are grey-blue, and during the mating season, the
male's neck and thighs become brighter and bluer. The females are more
brown than those of other subspecies. It generally lives in pairs
or alone, rather than in flocks. Its range overlaps with S. c.
massaicus in northeastern Kenya.
Northeastern Africa: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia,
Kenya and Somalia
Some analyses indicate that the
Somali ostrich may be better
considered a full species, but there is no consensus among experts
about this. The Tree of Life Project, The Clements Checklist of Birds
of the World and IOC recognize it as a different species, but Howard
and Moore Complete Checklist of the
Birds of the World
Birds of the World does not.
BirdLife International has reviewed the proposed split and accepted
Mitochondrial DNA haplotype comparisons suggest that it
diverged from the other ostriches not quite 4 mya due to formation of
the East African Rift. Hybridization with the subspecies that evolved
southwestwards of its range, S. c. massaicus, has apparently been
prevented from occurring on a significant scale by ecological
Somali ostrich preferring bushland where it browses
middle-height vegetation for food while the
Masai ostrich is, like the
other subspecies, a grazing bird of the open savanna and miombo
The population from
Río de Oro
Río de Oro was once separated as
spatzi because its eggshell pores were shaped like a teardrop and not
round. However, as there is considerable variation of this character
and there were no other differences between these birds and adjacent
populations of S. c. camelus, the separation is no longer considered
valid. This population disappeared in the latter half of the
20th century. There were 19th-century reports of the existence of
small ostriches in North Africa; these are referred to as Levaillant's
Struthio bidactylus) but remain a hypothetical form not
supported by material evidence.
Although eogruids are more closely related to cranes than to
ostriches, both groups converged heavily in being flightless,
didactylous birds, and co-existed in
The earliest fossil of ostrich-like birds are Paleocene taxa from
Remiornis are birds from the Middle Eocene
also cited as potential early ostriches. However, their exact status
as such is controversial, and they have alternatively been considered
more basal (or more derived) ratites. Other unspecified ratite remains
are known from the
Eocene and Oligocene of Europe and Africa; their
status as early ostriches too is questionable, and may in fact
represent multiple lineages of flightless paleognaths. The
African Eremopezus, when not considered a basal secretarybird or
shoebill, is sometimes considered an ostrich relative or an
Apart from these enigmatic birds, the fossil record of the ostriches
continues with several species of the modern genus
Struthio which are
known from the Early
Miocene onwards. While the relationship of the
African species is comparatively straightforward, a large number of
Asian species of ostrich have been described from fragmentary remains,
and their interrelationships and how they relate to the African
ostriches are confusing. In China, ostriches are known to have become
extinct only around or even after the end of the last ice age; images
of ostriches have been found there on prehistoric pottery and
Ostriches have co-existed with another lineage of flightless didactyl
birds, the eogruids. Though Olson 1985 classified these birds as
stem-ostriches, they are otherwise universally considered to be
related to cranes, any similarities being the result of convergent
evolution. Competition from ostriches has been suggested to have
caused the extinction of the eogruids, though this has never
been tested and both groups do co-exist in some sites.
Several of these fossil forms are ichnotaxa (that is, classified
according to the organism's footprints or other trace rather than its
body) and their association with those described from distinctive
bones is contentious and in need of revision pending more good
In Subsaharan Africa:
Struthio coppensi (Early
Miocene of Elizabethfeld, Namibia)
Struthio karingarabensis (Late
Miocene – Early Pliocene of SW and CE
Africa) – oospecies(?)
Struthio kakesiensis (Laetolil Early Pliocene of Laetoli, Tanzania)
Struthio oldawayi (Early Pleistocene of Tanzania) – probably
subspecies of S. camelus
Struthio daberasensis (Early – Middle Pliocene of Namibia) –
In Eurasia and N. Africa:
Struthio linxiaensis (Liushu Late
Miocene of Yangwapuzijifang, China)
Struthio orlovi (Late
Miocene of Moldavia)
Struthio karatheodoris (Late
Miocene of Greece and Bulgaria)
Struthio wimani (Early Pliocene of
China and Mongolia)
Struthio brachydactylus (Pliocene of Ukraine)
Struthio chersonensis (Pliocene of SE Europe to WC Asia) – oospecies
Struthio asiaticus (Early Pliocene – Late Pleistocene
of Central Asia to China ?and Morocco)
Struthio dmanisensis (Late Pliocene/Early Pleistocene
of Dmanisi, Georgia)
Struthio anderssoni (Pleistocene to
Holocene in N China-Mongolia, to
8900 years BP) [oospecies (?)]
Distribution and habitat
Common ostriches formerly occupied
Africa north and south of the
Sahara, East Africa,
Africa south of the rain forest belt, and much of
Asia Minor. Today common ostriches prefer open land and are native
to the savannas and
Sahel of Africa, both north and south of the
equatorial forest zone. In Southwest
Africa they inhabit the
semi-desert or true desert. Farmed common ostriches in Australia have
established feral populations. The Arabian ostriches in the
Middle East were hunted to extinction by the middle of the
20th century. Attempts to reintroduce the common ostrich into Israel
have failed. Common ostriches have occasionally been seen
inhabiting islands on the Dahlak Archipelago, in the
Red Sea near
Research conducted by the
Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany
Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany in
India found molecular evidence that ostriches lived in India 25,000
years ago. DNA tests on fossilized eggshells recovered from eight
archaeological sites in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya
Pradesh found 92% genetic similarity between the eggshells and the
North African ostrich. This suggests that ostriches traveled between
Africa before the two landmasses drifted apart.
Behaviour and ecology
Ostriches sleeping, with REM sleep and slow-wave sleep phases.
Common ostriches normally spend the winter months in pairs or alone.
Only 16 percent of common ostrich sightings were of more than two
birds. During breeding season and sometimes during extreme rainless
periods ostriches live in nomadic groups of five to 100 birds (led by
a top hen) that often travel together with other grazing animals, such
as zebras or antelopes. Ostriches are diurnal, but may be active
on moonlit nights. They are most active early and late in the day.
The male common ostrich territory is between 2 and 20 km2 (0.77
and 7.72 sq mi).
With their acute eyesight and hearing, common ostriches can sense
predators such as lions from far away. When being pursued by a
predator, they have been known to reach speeds in excess of
70 km/h (43 mph), and can maintain a steady speed of
50 km/h (31 mph), which makes the common ostrich the world's
fastest two-legged animal. When lying down and hiding from
predators, the birds lay their heads and necks flat on the ground,
making them appear like a mound of earth from a distance, aided by the
heat haze in their hot, dry habitat.
When threatened, common ostriches run away, but they can cause serious
injury and death with kicks from their powerful legs. Their legs
can only kick forward.
"Head in the sand" myth
Contrary to popular belief, ostriches do not bury their heads in sand
to avoid danger. This myth likely began with
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder (AD
23–79), who wrote that ostriches "imagine, when they have thrust
their head and neck into a bush, that the whole of their body is
concealed." This may have been a misunderstanding of their
sticking their heads in the sand to swallow sand and pebbles to help
digest their fibrous food, or, as National Geographic suggests, of
the defensive behavior of lying low, so that they may appear from a
distance to have their head buried. Another possible origin for
the myth lies with the fact that ostriches keep their eggs in holes in
the sand instead of nests, and must rotate them using their beaks
during incubation; digging the hole, placing the eggs, and rotating
them might each be mistaken for an attempt to bury their heads in the
They mainly feed on seeds, shrubs, grass, fruit and flowers;
occasionally they also eat insects such as locusts. Lacking teeth,
they swallow pebbles that act as gastroliths to grind food in the
gizzard. When eating, they will fill their gullet with food, which is
in turn passed down their esophagus in the form of a ball called a
bolus. The bolus may be as much as 210 ml
(7.1 US fl oz). After passing through the neck (there
is no crop) the food enters the gizzard and is worked on by the
aforementioned pebbles. The gizzard can hold as much as 1,300 g
(46 oz), of which up to 45% may be sand and pebbles. Common
ostriches can go without drinking for several days, using metabolic
water and moisture in ingested plants, but they enjoy liquid water
and frequently take baths where it is available. They can survive
losing up to 25% of their body weight through dehydration.
Common ostriches become sexually mature when they are 2 to 4 years
old; females mature about six months earlier than males. As with other
birds, an individual may reproduce several times over its lifetime.
The mating season begins in March or April and ends sometime before
September. The mating process differs in different geographical
regions. Territorial males typically boom in defence of their
territory and harem of two to seven hens; the successful male may
then mate with several females in the area, but will only form a pair
bond with a 'major' female.
The cock performs with his wings, alternating wing beats, until he
attracts a mate. They will go to the mating area and he will maintain
privacy by driving away all intruders. They graze until their
behaviour is synchronized, then the feeding becomes secondary and the
process takes on a ritualistic appearance. The cock will then
excitedly flap alternate wings again, and start poking on the ground
with his bill. He will then violently flap his wings to symbolically
clear out a nest in the soil. Then, while the hen runs a circle around
him with lowered wings, he will wind his head in a spiral motion. She
will drop to the ground and he will mount for copulation. Common
ostriches raised entirely by humans may direct their courtship
behaviour not at other ostriches, but toward their human keepers.
Only 15% of the surviving chicks reach 1 year of age
Common ostrich chick, recently hatched from egg
Common ostrich hen with chicks
Female incubating eggs in a shallow nest on the ground
The female common ostrich lays her fertilised eggs in a single
communal nest, a simple pit, 30 to 60 cm (12–24 in)
deep and 3 m (9.8 ft) wide, scraped in the ground by the
male. The dominant female lays her eggs first, and when it is time to
cover them for incubation she discards extra eggs from the weaker
females, leaving about 20 in most cases. A female common ostrich
can distinguish her own eggs from the others in a communal nest.
Ostrich eggs are the largest of all eggs, though they are actually
the smallest eggs relative to the size of the adult bird — on
average they are 15 cm (5.9 in) long, 13 cm
(5.1 in) wide, and weigh 1.4 kilograms (3.1 lb), over 20
times the weight of a chicken's egg and only 1 to 4% the size of the
female. They are glossy cream-coloured, with thick shells marked
by small pits.
The eggs are incubated by the females by day and by the males by
night. This uses the colouration of the two sexes to escape detection
of the nest, as the drab female blends in with the sand, while the
black male is nearly undetectable in the night. The incubation
period is 35 to 45 days, which is rather short compared to other
ratites. This is believed to be the case due to the high rate of
predation. Typically, the male defends the hatchlings and teaches
them to feed, although males and females cooperate in rearing chicks.
Fewer than 10% of nests survive the 9 week period of laying and
incubation, and of the surviving chicks, only 15% of those survive to
1 year of age. However, among those common ostriches who survive to
adulthood, the species is one of the longest-living bird species.
Common ostriches in captivity have lived to 62 years and 7 months.
As a flightless species in the rich biozone of the African savanna,
the common ostrich must face a variety of formidable predators
throughout its life cycle. Animals that prey on ostriches of all ages
may include cheetahs, lions, leopards, African hunting dogs, and
spotted hyenas. Common ostriches can often outrun most of their
predators in a pursuit, so most predators will try to ambush an
unsuspecting bird using obstructing vegetation or other objects. A
notable exception is the cheetah, which is the most prolific predator
of adult common ostriches due to its own great running speeds.
Predators of nests and young common ostriches include jackals, various
birds of prey, warthogs, mongoose and Egyptian vultures. If
the nest or young are threatened, either or both of the parents may
create a distraction, feigning injury. However, they may sometimes
fiercely fight predators, especially when chicks are being defended,
and have been capable of killing even lions in such
Diagrammatic location of the air sacs of the common ostrich
Morphology of the common ostrich lung indicates that the structure
conforms to that of the other avian species, but still retains parts
of its primitive avian species, ratite, structure. The opening to
the respiratory pathway begins with the laryngeal cavity lying
posterior to the choanae within the buccal cavity. The tip of the
tongue then lies anterior to the choanae, excluding the nasal
respiratory pathway from the buccal cavity. The trachea lies
ventrally to the cervical vertebrae extending from the larynx to the
syrinx, where the trachea enters the thorax, dividing into two primary
bronchi, one to each lung, in which they continue directly through to
become mesobronchi. Ten different air sacs attach to the lungs to
form areas for respiration. The most posterior air sacs (abdominal
and post-thoracic) differ in that the right abdominal air sac is
relatively small, lying to the right of the mesentery, and dorsally to
the liver. While the left abdominal air sac is large and lies to
the left of the mesentery. The connection from the main
mesobronchi to the more anterior air sacs including the
interclavicular, lateral clavicular, and pre-thoracic sacs known as
the ventrobronchi region. While the caudal end of the mesobronchus
branches into several dorsobronchi. Together, the ventrobronchi and
dorsobronchi are connected by intra-pulmonary airways, the
parabronchi, which form an arcade structure within the lung called the
paleopulmo. It is the only structure found in primitive birds such as
The largest air sacs found within the respiratory system are those of
the post-thoracic region, while the others decrease in size
respectively, the interclavicular (unpaired), abdominal, pre-thoracic,
and lateral clavicular sacs. The adult common ostrich lung lacks
connective tissue known as interparabronchial septa, which render
strength to the non-compliant avian lung in other bird species. Due to
this the lack of connective tissue surrounding the parabronchi and
adjacent parabronchial lumen, they exchange blood capillaries or
avascular epithelial plates. Like mammals, ostrich lungs contain
an abundance of type II cells at gas exchange sites; an adaptation for
preventing lung collapse during slight volume changes.
The common ostrich is an endotherm and maintains a body temperature of
38.1–39.7 °C (100.6–103.5 °F) in its extreme living
temperature conditions, such as the heat of the savanna and desert
regions of Africa. The ostrich utilizes its respiratory system via
a costal pump for ventilation rather than a diaphragmatic pump as seen
in most mammals. Thus, they are able to use a series of air sacs
connected to the lungs. The use of air sacs forms the basis for the
three main avian respiratory characteristics:
Air is able to flow continuously in one direction through the lung,
making it more efficient than the mammalian lung.
It provides birds with a large residual volume, allowing them to
breathe much more slowly and deeply than a mammal of the same body
It provides a large source of air that is used not only for gaseous
exchange, but also for the transfer of heat by evaporation.
Ostrich portrait showing its large eyes and long eyelashes, its flat,
broad beak, and its nostrils
Inhalation begins at the mouth and the nostrils located at the front
of the beak. The air then flows through the anatomical dead space of a
highly vascular trachea (c. 78 cm (31 in)) and expansive
bronchial system, where it is further conducted to the posterior air
sacs. Air flow through the parabronchi of the paleopulmo is in the
same direction to the dorsobronchi during inspiration and expiration.
Inspired air moves into the respiratory system as a result of the
expansion of thoraco abdominal cavity; controlled by inspiratory
muscles. During expiration, oxygen poor air flows to the anterior air
sacs and is expelled by the action of the expiratory muscles. The
common ostrich air sacs play a key role in respiration since they are
capacious, and increase surface area (as described by the Fick
Principle). The oxygen rich air flows unidirectionally across the
respiratory surface of the lungs; providing the blood that has a
crosscurrent flow with a high concentration of oxygen.
To compensate for the large "dead" space, the common ostrich trachea
lacks valves to allow faster inspiratory air flow. In addition,
the total lung capacity of the respiratory system, (including the
lungs and ten air sacs) of a 100 kg (220 lb) ostrich is
about 15 L (3.3 imp gal; 4.0 US gal), with a
tidal volume ranging from 1.2–1.5 L
(0.26–0.33 imp gal; 0.32–0.40 US gal).
The tidal volume is seen to double resulting in a 16-fold increase in
ventilation. Overall, ostrich respiration can be thought of as a
high velocity-low pressure system. At rest, there is small
pressure differences between the ostrich air sacs and the atmosphere,
suggesting simultaneous filling and emptying of the air sacs.
The increase in respiration rate from the low range to the high range
is sudden and occurs in response to hyperthermia. Birds lack sweat
glands, so when placed under stress due to heat, they heavily rely
upon increased evaporation from the respiratory system for heat
transfer. This rise in respiration rate however is not necessarily
associated with a greater rate of oxygen consumption. Therefore,
unlike other birds, the common ostrich is able to dissipate heat
through panting without experiencing respiratory alkalosis by
modifying ventilation of the respiratory medium. During hyperpnea
ostriches pant at a respiratory rate of 40–60 cycles per minute,
versus their resting rate of 6–12 cycles per minute. Hot, dry
and moisture lacking properties of the common ostrich respiratory
medium affects oxygen's diffusion rate (Henry's Law).
Common ostriches develop via Intussusceptive angiogenesis, a mechanism
of blood vessel formation, characterizing many organs. It is not
only involved in vasculature expansion, but also in
angioadaptation of vessels to meet physiological requirements.
The use of such mechanisms demonstrates an increase in the later
stages of lung development, along with elaborate parabronchial
vasculature, and reorientation of the gas exchange blood capillaries
to establish the crosscurrent system at the blood-gas barrier. The
blood–gas barrier (BGB) of their lung tissue is thick. The advantage
of this thick barrier may be protection from damage by large volumes
of blood flow in times of activity, such as running, since air is
pumped by the air sacs rather than the lung itself. As a result, the
capillaries in the parabronchi have thinner walls, permitting more
efficient gaseous exchange. In combination with separate pulmonary
and systemic circulatory systems, it helps to reduce stress on the
The common ostrich heart is a closed system, contractile chamber. It
is composed of myogenic muscular tissue associated with heart
contraction features. There is a double circulatory plan in place
possessing both a pulmonary circuit and systemic circuit.
The common ostrich’s heart has similar features to other avian
species like having a conically shaped heart, and being enclosed by a
pericardium layer. Moreover, similarities also include a larger
right atrium volume, and a thicker left ventricle to fulfil the
systemic circuit. The ostrich heart has three features that are
absent in related birds:
The right atrioventricular valve is fixed to the interventricular
septum, by a thick muscular stock, which prevents back-flow of blood
into the atrium when ventricular systole is occurring. In the fowl
this valve is only connected by a short septal attachment.
Pulmonary veins attach to the left atrium separately, and also the
opening to the pulmonary veins are separated by a septum.
Moderator bands, full of purkinje fibers, are found in different
locations in the left and right ventricles. These bands are
associated with contractions of the heart and suggests this difference
causes the left ventricle to contract harder to create more pressure
for a completed circulation of blood around the body.
The atrioventricular node position differs from other fowl. It is
located in the endocardium of the atrial surface of the right
atrioventricular valve. It is not covered by connective tissue, which
is characteristic of vertebrate heart anatomy. It also contains fewer
myofibrils than usual myocardial cells. The AV node connects the
atrial and ventricular chambers. It functions to carry the electrical
impulse from the atria to the ventricle. Upon view, the myocardial
cells are observed to have large densely packed chromosomes within the
The coronary arteries start in the right and left aortic sinus and
provide blood to the heart muscle in a similar fashion to most other
vertebrates. Other domestic birds capable of flight have three or
more coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. The
blood supply by the coronary arteries are fashioned starting as a
large branch over the surface of the heart. It then moves along the
coronary groove and continues on into the tissue as interventricular
branches toward the apex of the heart. The atria, ventricles, and
septum are supplied of blood by this modality. The deep branches of
the coronary arteries found within the heart tissue are small and
supply the interventricular and right atrioventricular valve with
blood nutrients for which to carry out their processes. The
interatrial artery of the ostrich is small in size and exclusively
supplies blood to only part of the left auricle and interatrial
These purkinje fibers (p-fibers) found in the hearts moderator bands
are a specialized cardiac muscle fiber that causes the heart to
contract. The purkinje cells are mostly found within both the
endocardium and the sub-endocardium. The sinoatrial node shows a
small concentration of purkinje fibers, however, continuing through
the conducting pathway of the heart the bundle of his shows the
highest amount of these purkinje fibers.
The red blood cell count per unit volume in the ostrich is about 40%
of that of a human; however, the red blood cells of the ostrich are
about three times larger than the red blood cells of a human. The
blood oxygen affinity, known as P50, is higher than that of both
humans and similar avian species. The reason for this decreased
oxygen affinity is due to the hemoglobin configuration found in common
ostrich blood. The common ostrich’s tetramer is composed of
hemoglobin type A and D, compared to typical mammalian tetramers
composed of hemoglobin type A and B; hemoglobin D configuration causes
a decreased oxygen affinity at the site of the respiratory
During the embryonic stage
Hemoglobin E is present. This subtype
increases oxygen affinity in order to transport oxygen across the
allantoic membrane of the embryo. This can be attributed to the
high metabolic need of the developing embryo, thus high oxygen
affinity serves to satisfy this demand. When the chick hatches
hemoglobin E diminishes while hemoglobin A and D increase in
concentration. This shift in hemoglobin concentration results in
both decreased oxygen affinity and increased P50 value.
Furthermore, the P50 value is influenced by differing organic
modulators. In the typical mammalian RBC 2,3 – DPG causes a
lower affinity for oxygen. 2,3- DPG constitutes approximately
42–47%, of the cells phosphate of the embryonic ostrich.
However, the adult ostrich have no traceable 2,3- DPG.In place of
2,3-DPG the ostrich uses inositol polyphosphates (IPP), which vary
from 1–6 phosphates per molecule. In relation to the IPP, the
ostrich also uses ATP to lower oxygen affinity. ATP has a
consistent concentration of phosphate in the cell. Around 31% at
incubation periods, and dropping to 16–20% in 36-day-old chicks.
However, IPP has low concentrations, around 4%, of total phosphate
concentration in embryonic stages; However, the IPP concentration
jumps to 60% of total phosphate of the cell. The majority of
phosphate concentration switches from 2,3- DPG to IPP, suggesting the
result of the overall low oxygen affinity is due to these varying
Concerning immunological adaptation, it was discovered that wild
common ostriches have a pronounced non specific immunity defense, with
blood content reflecting high values of lysosome, and phagocyte cells
in medium. This is in contrast to domesticated ostriches, who in
captivity develop high concentration of immunoglobulin antibodies in
their circulation, indicating an acquired immunological response. It
is suggested that this immunological adaptability may allow this
species to have a high success rate of survival in variable
The common ostrich is a xeric animal, due to the fact that it lives in
habitats that are both dry and hot. Water is scarce in dry and hot
environment, and this poses a challenge to the ostrich's water
consumption. Also the ostrich is a ground bird and cannot fly to find
water sources, which poses a further challenge. Because of their size,
common ostriches cannot easily escape the heat of their environment;
however, they dehydrate less than their small bird counterparts
because of their small surface area to volume ratio. Hot, arid
habitats pose osmotic stress, such as dehydration, which triggers the
common ostrich’s homeostatic response to osmoregulate.
The common ostrich is well adapted to hot, arid environments through
specialization of excretory organs. The common ostrich has an
extremely long and developed colon the length of approximately
11–13 m (36–43 ft) between the coprodeum and the paired
caeca, which are around 80 cm (31 in) long. A well
developed caeca is also found and in combination with the rectum forms
the microbial fermentation chambers used for carbohydrate
breakdown. The catabolism of carbohydrates produces around
0.56 g (0.020 oz) of water that can be used internally.
The majority of their urine is stored in the coprodeum, and the faeces
are separately stored in the terminal colon. The coprodeum is
located ventral to the terminal rectum and urodeum (where the ureters
open). Found between the terminal rectum and coprodeum is a strong
sphincter. The coprodeum and cloaca are the main osmoregulatory
mechanisms used for the regulation and reabsorption of ions and water,
or net water conservation. As expected in a species inhabiting
arid regions, dehydration causes a reduction in faecal water, or dry
feces. This reduction is believed to be caused by high levels of
plasma aldosterone, which leads to rectal absorption of sodium and
water. Also expected is the production of hyperosmotic urine;
cloacal urine has been found to be 800 mosmol/L. The U:P
(urine:plasma) ratio of the common ostrich is therefore greater than
one. Diffusion of water to the coprodeum (where urine is stored) from
plasma across the epithelium is voided. This void is believed to
be caused by the thick mucosal layering of the coprodeum.
Common ostriches have two kidneys, which are chocolate brown in color,
granular in texture, and lie in a depression in the pelvic cavity of
the dorsal wall. They are covered by peritoneum and a layer of
fat. Each kidney is about 300 mm (12 in) long,
70 mm (2.8 in) wide, and divided into a cranial, middle, and
caudal sections by large veins. The caudal section is the largest,
extends into the middle of the pelvis. The ureters leave the
ventral caudomedial surface and continue caudally, near the midline
into the opening of the urodeum of the cloaca. Although there is
no bladder, a dilated pouch of ureter stores the urine until it is
secreted continuously down from the ureters to the urodeum until
Common ostrich kidneys are fairly large, and so are able to hold
significant amounts of solutes. Hence, common ostriches drink
relatively large volumes of water daily, and excrete generous
quantities of highly concentrated urine. It is when drinking water is
unavailable or withdrawn, that the urine becomes highly concentrated
with uric acid and urates. It seems that common ostriches who
normally drink relatively large amounts of water tend to rely on renal
conservation of water when drinking water is scarce within the kidney
system. Though there have been no official detailed renal studies
conducted on the flow rate (Poiseuille's Law) and composition of
the ureteral urine in the ostrich, knowledge of renal function has
been based on samples of cloacal urine, and samples or quantitative
collections of voided urine. Studies have shown that the amount of
water intake, and dehydration impacts the plasma osmolality and urine
osmolality within various sized ostriches. During a normal hydration
state of the kidneys, young ostriches tend to have a measured plasma
osmolality of 284 mOsm, and urine osmolality of 62 mOsm. Adults have
higher rates with a plasma osmolality of 330 mOsm, and a urine
osmolality of 163 mOsm. The osmolality of both plasma and urine can
alter in regards to whether there is an excess or depleted amount of
water present within the kidneys. An interesting fact of common
ostriches is that when water is freely available, the urine osmolality
can reduce to 60–70 mOsm, not losing any necessary solutes from the
kidneys when excess water is excreted. Dehydrated or salt-loaded
ostriches can reach a maximal urine osmolality of approximately 800
mOsm. When the plasma osmolality has been measured simultaneously with
the maximal osmotic urine, it is seen that the urine:plasma ratio is
2.6:1, the highest encountered among avian species. Along with
dehydration, there is also a reduction in flow rate from
20 L·d−1 to only 0.3–0.5 L·d−1.
In mammals and common ostriches, the increase of the glomerular
filtration rate (GFR) and urine flow rate (UFR) is due to a high
protein diets. As seen in various studies, scientists have measured
clearance of creatinine, a fairly reliable marker of glomerular
filtration rate (GFR). It has been seen that during normal
hydration within the kidneys, the glomerular filtration rate is
approximately 92 ml/min. However, when an ostrich experiences
dehydration for at least 48 hours (2 days), this value diminishes to
only 25% of the hydrated GFR rate. Thus in response to the
dehydration, ostrich kidneys secrete small amounts of very viscous
glomerular filtrates that have not been broken down, and return them
to the circulatory system through blood vessels. The reduction of GFR
during dehydration is extremely high, and so the fractional excretion
of water (urine flow rate as a percentage of GFR) drops down from 15%
at normal hydration to 1% during dehydration.
Water intake and turnover
Common ostriches employ adaptive features to manage the dry heat and
solar radiation in their habitat. Ostriches will drink available
water; however, they are limited in accessing water by being
flightless. They are also able to harvest water through dietary means,
consuming plants such as the
Euphorbia heterochroma that hold up to
Water mass accounts for 68% of body mass in adult common ostriches;
this is down from 84% water mass in 35-day-old chicks. The differing
degrees of water retention are thought to be a result of varying body
fat mass. In comparison to smaller birds ostriches have a lower
evaporative water loss resulting from their small body surface area
per unit weight.
When heat stress is at its maximum, common ostriches are able to
recover evaporative loss by using a metabolic water mechanism to
counter the loss by urine, feces, and respiratory evaporation. An
experiment to determine the primary source of water intake in the
ostrich indicated that while the ostrich does employ a metabolic water
production mechanism as a source of hydration, the most important
source of water is food. When ostriches were restricted to the no food
or water condition, the metabolic water production was only
0.5 L·d−1, while total water lost to urine, feces and
evaporation was 2.3 L·d−1. When the birds were given both
water and food, total water gain was 8.5 L·d−1. In the food
only condition total water gain was 10.1 L·d−1. These results
show that the metabolic water mechanism is not able to sustain water
loss independently, and that food intake, specifically of plants with
a high water content such as Euphorbia heterochroma, is necessary to
overcome water loss challenges in the common ostrich's arid
In times of water deprivation, urine electrolyte and osmotic
concentration increases while urination rate decreases. Under these
conditions urine solute:plasma ratio is approximately 2.5, or
hyperosmotic; that is to say that the ratio of solutes to water in the
plasma is shifted down whereby reducing osmotic pressure in the
plasma. Water is then able to be held back from excretion, keeping the
ostrich hydrated, while the passed urine contains higher
concentrations of solute. This mechanism exemplifies how renal
function facilitates water retention during periods of dehydration
A number of avian species use nasal salt glands, alongside their
kidneys, to control hypertonicity in their blood plasma. However,
the common ostrich shows no nasal glandular function in regard to this
homeostatic process. Even in a state of dehydration, which
increases the osmolality of the blood, nasal salt glands show no
sizeable contribution of salt elimination. Also, the overall mass
of the glands was less than that of the duck’s nasal gland. The
common ostrich, having a heavier body weight, should have larger,
heavier nasal glands to more effectively excrete salt from a larger
volume of blood, but this is not the case. These unequal proportions
contribute to the assumption that the common ostrich’s nasal glands
do not play any role in salt excretion. The nasal glands may be the
result of an ancestral trait, which is no longer needed by the common
ostrich, but has not been bred out of their gene pool.[citation
The majority of the common ostrich’s internal solutes are made up of
sodium ions (Na+), potassium ions (K+), chloride ions (Cl-), total
short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), and acetate. The caecum contains a
high water concentration with reduced levels nearing the terminal
colon, and exhibits a rapid fall in Na+ concentrations and small
changes in K+ and Cl-. The colon is divided into three sections
and take part in solute absorption. The upper colon largely absorbs
Na+ and SCFA, and partially absorbs KCl. The middle colon absorbs
Na+, SCFA, with little net transfer of K+ and Cl-. The lower colon
then slightly absorbs Na+ and water, and secretes K+. There is no net
movements of Cl- and SCFA found in the lower colon.
When the common ostrich is in a dehydrated state plasma osmolality,
Na+, K+, and Cl- ions all increase, however, K+ ions returned to
controlled concentration. The common ostrich also experiences an
increase in haematocrit, resulting in a hypovolemic state. Two
antidiuretic hormones, Arginine vasotocin (AVT) and angiotensin (AII)
are increased in blood plasma as a response to hyperosmolality and
hypovolemia. AVT triggers antidiuretic hormone (ADH) which targets
the nephrons of the kidney. ADH causes a reabsorption of water
from the lumen of the nephron to the extracellular fluid
osmotically. These extracellular fluids then drain into blood
vessels, causing a rehydrating effect. This drainage prevents loss
of water by both lowering volume and increasing concentration of the
urine. Angiotensin, on the other hand, causes vasoconstriction on
the systemic arterioles, and acts as a dipsogen for ostriches.
Both of these antidiuretic hormones work together to maintain water
levels in the body that would normally be lost due to the osmotic
stress of the arid environment.
The end-product of catabolism of protein metabolism in animals is
nitrogen. Animals must excrete this in the form of nitrogenous
compounds. Ostriches are uricotelic. They excrete nitrogen as the
complex nitrogenous waste compound uric acid, and related
derivatives. Uric acid's low solubility in water gives a
semi-solid paste consistency to the ostrich's nitrogenous waste.
Common ostriches are homeothermic endotherms; they regulate a constant
body temperature via regulating their metabolic heat rate. They
closely regulate their core body temperature, but their appendages may
be cooler in comparison as found with regulating species. The
temperature of their beak, neck surfaces, lower legs, feet and toes
are regulated through heat exchange with the environment. Up to
40% of their produced metabolic heat is dissipated across these
structures, which account for about 12% of their total surface
area. Total evaporative water loss (TEWL) is statistically lower
in the common ostrich than in membering ratites.
As ambient temperature increases, dry heat loss decreases, but
evaporative heat loss increases because of increased respiration.
As ostriches experience high ambient temperatures, circa 50 °C
(122 °F), they become slightly hyperthermic; however, they can
maintain a stable body temperature, around 40 °C (104 °F),
for up to 8 hours in these conditions. When dehydrated, the common
ostrich minimises water loss, causing the body temperature to increase
further. When the body heat is allowed to increase the temperature
gradient between the common ostrich and ambient heat is
Common ostriches have developed a comprehensive set of behavioural
adaptations for thermoregulation, such as altering their feathers.
Common ostriches display a feather fluffing behaviour that aids them
in thermoregulation by regulating convective heat loss at high ambient
temperatures. They may also physically seek out shade in times of
high ambient temperatures. When feather fluffing, they contract their
muscles to raise their feathers to increase the air space next to
their skin. This air space provides an insulating thickness of
7 cm (2.8 in). The ostrich will also expose the thermal
windows of their unfeathered skin to enhance convective and radiative
loss in times of heat stress. At higher ambient temperatures lower
appendage temperature increases to 5 °C (9.0 °F)
difference from ambient temperature. Neck surfaces are around
6–7 °C (11–13 °F) difference at most ambient
temperatures, except when temperatures are around 25 °C
(77 °F) it was only 4 °C (7 °F) above ambient.
At low ambient temperatures the common ostrich utilizes feather
flattening, which conserves body heat through insulation. The low
conductance coefficient of air allows less heat to be lost to the
environment. This flattening behavior compensate for common
ostrich's rather poor cutaneous evaporative water loss (CEWL).
These feather heavy areas such as the body, thighs and wings do not
usually vary much from ambient temperatures due to this behavioural
controls. This ostrich will also cover its legs to reduce heat
loss to the environment, along with undergoing piloerection and
shivering when faced with low ambient temperatures.
The use of countercurrent heat exchange with blood flow allows for
regulated conservation/ elimination of heat of appendages. When
ambient temperatures are low, heterotherms will constrict their
arterioles to reduce heat loss along skin surfaces. The reverse
occurs at high ambient temperatures, arterioles dilate to increase
At ambient temperatures below their body temperatures (thermal neutral
zone (TNZ)), common ostriches decrease body surface temperatures so
that heat loss occurs only across about 10% of total surface area.
This 10% include critical areas that require blood flow to remain high
to prevent freezing, such as their eyes. Their eyes and ears tend
to be the warmest regions. It has been found that temperatures of
lower appendages were no more than 2.5 °C (4.5 °F) above
ambient temperature, which minimizes heat exchange between feet, toes,
wings, and legs.
Both the Gular and air sacs, being close to body temperature, are the
main contributors to heat and water loss. Surface temperature can
be affected by the rate of blood flow to a certain area, and also by
the surface area of the surrounding tissue. The ostrich reduces
blood flow to the trachea to cool itself, and vasodilates its blood
vessels around the gular region to raise the temperature of the
tissue. The air sacs are poorly vascularized but show an increased
temperature, which aids in heat loss.
Common ostriches have evolved a 'selective brain cooling' mechanism as
a means of thermoregulation. This modality allows the common ostrich
to manage the temperature of the blood going to the brain in response
to the extreme ambient temperature of the surroundings. The morphology
for heat exchange occurs via cerebral arteries and the ophthalmic
rete, a network of arteries originating from the ophthalmic artery.
The ophthalmic rete is analogous to the carotid rete found in mammals,
as it also facilitates transfer of heat from arterial blood coming
from the core to venous blood returning from the evaporative surfaces
at the head.
Researchers suggest that common ostriches also employ a ‘selective
brain warming’ mechanism in response to cooler surrounding
temperatures in the evenings. The brain was found to maintain a warmer
temperature when compared to carotid arterial blood supply.
Researchers hypothesize three mechanisms for this finding. They first
suggest a possible increase in metabolic heat production within the
brain tissue itself to compensate for the colder arterial blood
arriving from the core. They also speculate that there is an overall
decrease in cerebral blood flow to the brain. Finally, they suggest
that warm venous blood perfusion at the ophthalmic rete facilitates
warming of cerebral blood that supplies the hypothalamus. Further
research will need to be done to find how this occurs.
The common ostrich has no sweat glands, and under heat stress they
rely on panting to reduce their body temperature. Panting
increases evaporative heat (and water) loss from its respiratory
surfaces, therefore forcing air and heat removal without the loss of
metabolic salts. Panting allows the common ostrich to have a very
effective respiratory evaporative water loss (REWL). Heat dissipated
by respiratory evaporation increases linearly with ambient
temperature, matching the rate of heat production. As a result of
panting the common ostrich should eventually experience alkalosis.
However, The CO2 concentration in the blood does not change when hot
ambient temperatures are experienced. This effect is caused by a
lung surface shunt. The lung is not completely shunted, allowing
enough oxygen to fulfill the bird’s metabolic needs. The common
ostrich utilizes gular fluttering, rapid rhythmic contraction and
relaxation of throat muscles, in a similar way to panting. Both
these behaviors allow the ostrich to actively increase the rate of
In hot temperatures water is lost via respiration. Moreover,
varying surface temperatures within the respiratory tract contribute
differently to overall heat and water loss through panting. The
surface temperature of the gular area is 38 °C (100 °F);
that of the tracheal area, between 34 and 36 °C (93 and
97 °F); and that of both anterior and posterior air sacs,
38 °C (100 °F). The long trachea, being cooler than
body temperature, is a site of water evaporation.
As ambient air becomes hotter, additional evaporation can take place
lower in the trachea making its way to the posterior sacs, shunting
the lung surface. The trachea acts as a buffer for evaporation
because of the length, and the controlled vascularization. The
Gular is also heavily vascularized; its purpose is for cooling blood,
but also evaporation, as previously stated. Air flowing through the
trachea can be either laminar or turbulent depending on the state of
the bird. When the common ostrich is breathing normally, under no
heat stress, air flow is laminar. When the common ostrich is
experiencing heat stress from the environment the air flow is
considered turbulent. This suggests that laminar air flow causes
little to no heat transfer, while under heat stress turbulent airflow
can cause maximum heat transfer within the trachea.
Common ostriches are able to attain their necessary energetic
requirements via the oxidation of absorbed nutrients. Much of the
metabolic rate in animals is dependent upon their allometry, the
relationship between body size to shape, anatomy, physiology and
behaviour of an animal. Hence, it is plausible to state that metabolic
rate in animals with larger masses is greater than animals with a
When a bird is inactive, unfed, and the ambient temperature (i.e. in
the thermo-neutral zone) is high, the energy expended is at its
minimum. This level of expenditure is better known as the basal
metabolic rate (BMR), and can be calculated by measuring the amount of
oxygen consumed during various activities. Therefore, in common
ostriches we see use of more energy when compared to smaller birds in
absolute terms, but less per unit mass.
A key point when looking at the common ostrich metabolism is to note
that it is a non-passerine bird. Thus, BMR in ostriches is
particularly low with a value of only 0.113 ml O2 g−1 h−1. This
value can further be described using Kleiber's law, which relates the
BMR to the body mass of an animal.
Metabolic Rate =70M^ 0.75
is body mass, and metabolic rate is measured in kcal per day.
In common ostriches, a BMR (ml O2 g−1 h−1) = 389 kg0.73,
describing a line parallel to the intercept with only about 60% in
relation to other non-passerine birds.
Along with BMR, energy is also needed for a range of other activities.
If the ambient temperature is lower than the thermo-neutral zone, heat
is produced to maintain body temperature. So, the metabolic rate
in a resting, unfed bird, that is producing heat is known as the
standard metabolic rate (SMR) or resting metabolic rate(RMR). The
common ostrich SMR has been seen to be approximately 0.26 ml O2 g−1
h−1, almost 2.3 times the BMR. On another note, animals that
engage in extensive physical activity employ substantial amounts of
energy for power. This is known as the maximum metabolic scope. In an
ostrich, it is seen to be at least 28 times greater than the BMR.
Likewise, the daily energy turnover rate for an ostrich with access to
free water is 12,700 kJ·d−1, equivalent to
0.26 ml O2 g−1 h−1.
Status and conservation
The wild common ostrich population has declined drastically in the
last 200 years, with most surviving birds in reserves or on farms.
However, its range remains very large (9,800,000 square kilometres
(3,800,000 sq mi)), leading the
IUCN and BirdLife
International to treat it as a species of Least Concern. Of its 5
Arabian ostrich (S. c. syriacus) became extinct around
1966, and the
North African ostrich
North African ostrich (S. c. camelus) has declined to
the point where it now is included on
CITES Appendix I
CITES Appendix I and some treat
it as Critically Endangered.
Scene with common ostriches, Roman mosaic, 2nd century AD
Ostriches and humans
Common ostriches have inspired cultures and civilizations for 5,000
Mesopotamia and Egypt. A statue of Arsinoe II of
a common ostrich was found in a tomb in Egypt. Hunter-gatherers in
Kalahari use ostrich eggshells as water containers, punching a
hole in them. They also produce jewelry from it. The
presence of such eggshells with engraved hatched symbols dating from
Howiesons Poort period of the
Middle Stone Age
Middle Stone Age at Diepkloof Rock
Shelter in South
Africa suggests common ostriches were an important
part of human life as early as 60,000 BP.
Hunting and farming
Fashion accessories made from common ostrich feathers, Amsterdam, 1919
Domestic common ostriches being moved between camps in preparation for
filming a movie in South Africa.
In Roman times, there was a demand for common ostriches to use in
venatio games or cooking. They have been hunted and farmed for their
feathers, which at various times have been popular for ornamentation
in fashionable clothing (such as hats during the 19th century). Their
skins are valued for their leather. In the 18th century they were
almost hunted to extinction; farming for feathers began in the 19th
century. At the start of the 20th century there were over 700,000
birds in captivity. The market for feathers collapsed after World
War I, but commercial farming for feathers and later for skins and
meat became widespread during the 1970s. Common ostriches are so
adaptable that they can be farmed in climates ranging from South
Africa to Alaska.
Common ostrich eggs on the oil lamps of the Church of Saint Lazarus,
Eastern Christianity it is common to hang decorated common ostrich
eggs on the chains holding the oil lamps. The initial reason was
probably to prevent mice and rats from climbing down the chain to eat
the oil. Another, symbolical explanation is based in the
fictitious tradition that female common ostriches do not sit on their
eggs, but stare at them incessantly until they hatch out, because if
they stop staring even for a second the egg will addle. This is
equated to the obligation of the Christian to direct his entire
attention towards God during prayer, lest the prayer be
Various ostrich leather profucts. The ostrich leather is used for
material of bag and belt, purse.
Common ostriches have been farmed in South
Africa since the beginning
of the 19th century. According to Frank G. Carpenter, the English are
credited with first taming common ostriches outside Cape Town. Farmers
captured baby common ostriches and raised them successfully on their
property, and were able to obtain a crop of feathers every seven to
eight months instead of killing wild common ostriches for their
feathers. It is claimed that common ostriches produce the
strongest commercial leather.
Common ostrich meat tastes similar
to lean beef and is low in fat and cholesterol, as well as high in
calcium, protein and iron. Uncooked, it is dark red or cherry red, a
little darker than beef.
Ostrich stew is a dish prepared using
common ostrich meat.
Some common ostrich farms also cater to agri-tourism, which may
produce a substantial portion of the farm's income. This may
include tours of the farmlands, souvenirs, or even ostrich
Common ostriches typically avoid humans in the wild, since they
correctly assess humans as potential predators. If approached, they
often run away, but sometimes ostriches can be very aggressive when
threatened, especially if cornered, and may also attack if they feel
the need to defend their territories or offspring. Similar behaviors
are noted in captive or domesticated common ostriches, which retain
the same natural instincts and can occasionally respond aggressively
to stress. When attacking a person, common ostriches deliver slashing
kicks with their powerful feet, armed with long claws, with which they
can disembowel or kill a person with a single blow. In one study
of common ostrich attacks, it was estimated that two to three attacks
that result in serious injury or death occur each year in the area of
Oudtshoorn, South Africa, where a large number of common ostrich farms
are set next to both feral and wild common ostrich populations.
See also: List of racing forms §
Jacksonville, Florida, man with an common ostrich-drawn cart, circa
In some countries, people race each other on the backs of common
ostriches. The practice is common in Africa and is relatively
unusual elsewhere. The common ostriches are ridden in the same
way as horses with special saddles, reins, and bits. However, they are
harder to manage than horses.
Common ostrich race in 1933 in The Netherlands
The racing is also a part of modern South African culture. Within
the United States, a tourist attraction in Jacksonville, Florida
called 'The Ostrich Farm' opened up in 1892; it and its races became
one of the most famous early attractions in the history of
Florida. Likewise, the arts scene in
Indio, California consists
of both ostrich and camel racing. In the United States, Chandler,
Arizona hosts the annual "Ostrich Festival", which features common
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locations such as
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and the Fairgrounds in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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