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Ostrich

   

The Ostrich is a flightless bird native to Africa. It is the largest living species of bird. It is distinctive in its appearance, with a long neck and legs and the ability to run at high speeds.

Ostrich Struthio camelus

The Ostrich, (Struthio camelus), is a large flightless bird native to Africa. It is the only living species of its family, Struthionidae and its genus, Struthio. Ostriches share the order Struthioniformes with the kiwis, emus, and other ratites. It is distinctive in its appearance, with a long neck and legs and the ability to run at maximum speeds of about 70 km/h, the top land speed of any bird. The Ostrich is the largest living species of bird and lays the largest egg of any living bird (extinct elephant birds of Madagascar and the giant moa of New Zealand laid larger eggs).

The diet of the Ostrich mainly consists of plant matter, though it also eats insects. It lives in nomadic groups which contain between five and fifty birds. When threatened, the Ostrich will either hide itself by lying flat against the ground, or will run away. If cornered, it can attack with a kick from its powerful legs. Mating patterns differ by geographical region, but territorial males fight for a harem of two to seven females. These fights usually last just minutes, but they can easily cause death through slamming their heads into opponents.

The 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 marketed commercially.

Ostriches usually weigh from 63 to 130 kilograms with exceptional male Ostriches weighing up to 155 kilograms.

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 females neck and thighs is pinkish gray, while the male's is blue-gray, gray or pink dependent on subspecies.

The long neck and legs keep their head 1.8 to 2.75 metres above the ground, and their eyes are said to be the largest of any land vertebrate – 50 millimeters in diameter; they can therefore perceive predators at a great distance. The eyes are shaded from sun light falling from above.

Their skin is variably coloured depending on the sub-species. The male tarsometatarsus has red horn plates, while the female's are black. The strong legs of the Ostrich are unfeathered and show bare skin, while the tarsometatarsus is covered in scales. 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.

Ostriches can run at 72.4 km-per-hour for up to 30 minutes. The wings reach a span of about 2 metres and are used in mating displays and to shade chicks. 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. They have 50-60 tail feathers, and their wings have 16 primary, four alular and 20-23 secondary feathers. The 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 centimeters long. Unlike all other living birds, the Ostrich secretes urine separately from faeces. Contrary to all other birds who store the urine and faeces combined in the coprodeum, they store 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 8 inches long. Their palate differs from other ratites in that the sphenoid and palatal bones are unconnected.

At sexual maturity (two to four years), male Ostriches can be from 1.8 to 2.8 metres in height, while female Ostriches range from 1.7 to 2 metres. During the first year of life, chicks grow about 25 centimeters (10 in) per month. At one year of age, Ostriches weigh around 45 kilograms. Their lifespan is up to 40–45 years.

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 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 semidesert or true desert. They rarely go above 100 metres. The Arabian Ostriches in the Near and Middle East were hunted to extinction by the middle of the 20th century.

Pair "dancing".
Ostriches normally spend the winter months in pairs or alone. Only 16 percent of 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 50 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 ostrich territory is between 2 and 20 km2

With their acute eyesight and hearing, 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 and can maintain a steady speed of 50 km/h, which makes the 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 as a mound of earth from a distance. This even works for the males, as they hold their wings and tail low so that the heat haze of the hot, dry air that often occurs in their habitat aids in making them appear as a nondescript dark lump.

When threatened, Ostriches run away, but they can cause serious injury and death with kicks from their powerful legs. Their legs can only kick forward. Contrary to popular belief, Ostriches do not bury their heads in sand. This myth likely began with Pliny the Elder (A.D. 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."

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. An adult Ostrich carries about 1 kilogram of stones in its stomach. 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. 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. 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.

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 mechanism relies on action by the bird, which uses its wings to cover the naked skin of the upper legs and flanks to conserve heat, or leaves these areas bare to release heat.

Ostriches become sexually mature when they are 2 to 4 years old; females mature about six months earlier than males. The species is iteroparous, with the mating season beginning in March or April and ending sometime before September. The mating process differs in different geographical regions. Territorial males typically hiss and use other sounds to claim victory over a harem of two to seven hens. The successful male will then be allowed to breed with all the females in an area, but will only form a pair bond with the dominant 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 behavior 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 dirt. 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.

   
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