The ostrich (Struthio camelus) is a record-breaking bird. It's the tallest and heaviest species of all living birds. Although its bulky body means that flying is out of the question, the ostrich has adapted to life on the ground with impressive agility. Ostriches are superb runners that can sprint at speeds of up to 45 mph. The ostrich is also an endurance runner and can jog at a slick 30 mph for as long as a half an hour.
Ostriches are remarkable birds in other ways too. They possess the largest eye of any living terrestrial vertebrate, measuring 2 inches in diameter. Their 3-pound eggs, which measure some 6 inches in length and 5 inches in diameter, hold the title of largest egg produced by any living bird. Equally impressive is the fact that male ostriches are among only a few species of birds to have a penis.
Male and female ostriches differ slightly in their appearance. Males are mostly black but have white primary feathers and a white tail. Females and youngsters are greyish brown all over. Both sexes have long necks and powerful legs. Their legs lack feathers and are instead covered with scales. Ostriches have two toes on each foot, a characteristic that sets them apart from all other birds, which have four toes on each foot.
Ostriches live in Africa and occupy a variety of habitats including deserts, semiarid plains, savannas and open woodlands. During their 5-month breeding season, ostriches form flocks of between 5 and 50 individuals, often intermingling with grazing mammals such as zebras and antelope. When breeding season is finished, this larger flock breaks down into small groups of 2 to 5 birds.
Ostriches belong to a clan of flightless birds called the ratites. Ratites have a smooth breastbone which lacks a keel. Ratites have lost their keel over the course of their evolution—the keel is the bone structure to which flight muscles would normally be attached. Since ratites do not fly, they no longer need a keel. Other ratites include cassowaries, kiwis, moas and emus.
- Mass: 220 pounds
- Height: between 6 and 9 feet tall
- Diet: mostly plant material, some insects and small vertebrates
- Migration: non-migrant
- Range: Africa
- Habitat: deserts, semiarid plains, savannas and open woodlands