The common ostrich is a large, flightless bird that lives in Africa. It is a record breaker in many ways; not only is it the biggest, tallest and heaviest bird, it’s also the fastest bird on land, the fastest two-legged animal, and it lays the largest eggs of any animal.
Because the ostrich has an elongated neck and large protruding eyes shadowed by long lashes, it has been likened to a camel. (Its scientific name is Struthio camelus!) But the similarities do not end there. Ostriches can also withstand hot temperatures and go for long periods of time without water, usually getting enough moisture from the plants they eat.
Their diet consists mainly of roots, leaves, and seeds, but ostriches will eat whatever is available. Sometimes they consume insects, snakes, lizards, and rodents. They also swallow sand and pebbles which help them grind up their food in their gizzard, a specialized, muscular stomach. Because ostriches have this ability to grind food, they can eat things that other animals cannot digest.
The common ostrich is a member of a group of (mainly) large, flightless birds called ratites. The other ratites that are alive today are rheas, cassowaries, emus and kiwis (kiwis are much smaller than the other ratites).
Ostriches generally live together in groups of about ten, led by a dominant male and a dominant female. The dominant male defends the territory. His warning call is loud and deep. From far away, it can be mistaken for a lion’s roar. Ostriches also hiss to show their disapproval.
During breeding season (March to September), the dominant male performs a ritualized courtship dance by shaking his wings and tail feathers. If the main hen is impressed, the two will mate. The other hens in the group may also mate with the dominant male or with other lesser males. Then the dominant male scratches out a shallow pit in the dirt to create a nest. The dominant female will lay around 7-10 eggs in the center of the nest, and the other females place their eggs to the outside. The communal nest may have as many as 60 eggs in it!
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