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- Ostriches have the biggest eyes of any land mammal – almost 5cm across – and three sets of eyelids. The size of their eyes helps them to easily see predators like lions from a long distance.
- Ostriches have three stomachs. Since they lack teeth, they swallow small stones to grind their food, and an adult ostrich carries nearly one kilogram of pebbles in its stomach.
- Ostriches can go without drinking for several days, absorbing moisture from the food they eat, but they do enjoy water and will even bath in it if there is enough.
- As ostriches can’t fly, when threatened they’ll run, and can reach speeds up to about 70km/h (43mph), covering up to 5m in a single stride. Their powerful, long legs can be formidable weapons, capable of killing a human or a potential predator with a forward kick.
- Ostriches’ wings reach a span of about two metres, and are used in mating displays, to shade chicks, to cover the bare skin of the upper legs to conserve heat, and as ‘rudders’ to help them change direction while running.
- Territorial fights between males for a harem of two to seven females usually last just minutes, but they can easily cause death because they slam their heads into their opponents.
- What follows is a complex mating ritual consisting of wing beats, poking on the ground, and then the male will violently flap his wings to symbolically clear out a nest in the dirt. The hen runs circles around the cock with lowered wings, and he will swirl his head. She drops to the ground, and mating can commence.
- All of the herd’s hens put their eggs in one basket (the dominant hen’s 3m-wide nest). The giant eggs are the largest of any living bird at 15cm long and weighing as much as two dozen chicken eggs, though they are actually the smallest eggs relative to the size of the adult bird.
- The eggs are incubated by the dominant female by day (her drab colours blend in with the sand) and by the male at night (his black feathers make him nearly undetectable in the dark). The communal nest may end up containing as many as 60 eggs!
- Eggs hatch after 35–45 days incubation, and the male usually defends the chicks and teaches them to feed, although mums and dads cooperate in rearing the young.
- Ostriches don’t bury their heads in the sand! This myth probably began from the bird’s defensive way of lying low at the approach of trouble and pressing themselves to the ground to try to be less visible. Their feathers blend well with sandy soil and, from a distance, they may look like they’ve buried their heads in the sand.
- The ostrich is farmed commercially around the world for its decorative feathers, its meat and its skin, which is used for leather products.
- The wild ostrich population has declined drastically in the last 200 years, with most surviving birds in protected game parks or reserves, or on farms.