Is an ostrich a bird? Yes, an ostrich is a flightless bird and in fact, it’s the world’s largest bird. These birds come from the African desert and savannah. Adult males can reach heights of up to 9 feet and weights of 200 to 300 pounds.
Although they can’t fly, ostriches are powerful runners and can reach speeds up to 45 miles per hour. They don’t always run away, however. When cornered or threatened, an ostrich will deliver a kick with its long, powerful legs and sharp claws that can kill a lion or another large predator.
What Makes an Ostrich a Bird?
Birds are a group of warm-blooded vertebrates in the class Aves. They share several characteristics: feathers, toothless and beaked jaws, a high metabolic rate, a four-chambered heart, and a lightweight skeleton. Some of these characteristics are also common in mammals, which nurse their young. But birds lay hard-shelled eggs, like some reptiles and fish.
There are over 10,000 living bird species throughout the world, and all of them have wings. The only known group without wings is the extinct moa and elephant birds. Like the ostrich, emu, and penguin, flightless birds underwent evolutionary changes that resulted in the loss of flight.
Birds are considered feathered theropod dinosaurs, the only known living dinosaurs. In this sense, birds could be considered reptiles and are closely related to crocodilians, such as caimans and crocodiles. Certain characteristics, such as sustained, powered flight, distinguished ancient birds from other therapods and defined the modern bird lineage.
Where Do Ostriches Come From?
Ostriches originated in Africa, and that’s currently the only place you’ll find them in the wild. Depending on the season, ostriches may be roaming individually, in small or large flocks, or in pairs.
These birds are omnivores. They eat primarily vegetation but may eat some insects or small reptiles. As a desert species, they can go without water for extended periods.
Nowadays, ostriches are found all over the world in zoos and farms. Zoos keep them for display or captive breeding purposes, while farms raise them for their desirable meat, eggs, and hide, which produces soft, fine-grain leather.
Ostriches have been trained under saddle and for sulky racing, but they lack the endurance and trainability to succeed at the sport. Ostrich racing can still be seen in parts of South Africa and the U.S., though it’s not nearly as popular as it once was.
Do Ostriches Lay Eggs?
Like other birds, ostriches lay eggs. Ostrich farms often keep the birds to lay eggs, which can be up to 6 inches in diameter and weigh up to 3 pounds. Eggs are often laid in a communal nest called a dump nest, which can hold as many as 60 eggs at one time.
Ostriches are not selective about mating. Males will mate with as many females as they wish, and both the rooster and the hens will incubate the eggs until they hatch. The chicks are almost as large as standard chickens at hatching but quickly grow to be massive. By 6 months, a chick will reach almost its full-grown height.
Can You Keep Ostriches as Pets?
Ostriches have only been domesticated for about 150 years, but even saying that they’re “domesticated” at all is a bit of a reach. Ostriches are found on farms for meat, eggs, and leather, but they’re only technically domesticated for part of their lives.
Keeping ostriches as exotic pets in zoos was common in the Bronze Age in Mesopotamia as far back as the 18th century B.C.E. Ostrich hunts and ostriches in captivity are mentioned in the Assyrian annals, which was likely done for meat and eggs for food and feathers for adornment, much like how we use peacock feathers now.
Modern-day people do try to keep ostriches as pets, and it’s legal in some places, but it’s often a mistake. They’re cute as chicks, but they quickly grow into aggressive, territorial birds with sharp claws, powerful legs that kick, and weight that rivals most grown adult humans.
Furthermore, some ostrich subspecies are listed as critically endangered, and it would be illegal to keep them as pets. Ostrich farming is more common, and people raise and keep these animals for their meat, eggs, and leather. The market isn’t thriving, however, and just a few hundred ostrich farms exist in the U.S.
- Related Read: Can Ostriches Swim? Facts & Main Characteristics
Despite their considerable size, ostriches are, in fact, birds. They have feathers, lay eggs, and have wings for flight, even if they evolved to be fast runners and strong fighters instead. Ostriches may differ from the chickens, robins, and hummingbirds that we’re used to, but they’re still birds.
Featured Image Credit: Papa Bravo, Shutterstock