Formerly occupied Africa north and south of the Sahara, east Africa, Africa south of the rainforest belt, and much of Asia minor. Now lives in East Africa and south of the Sahara.


Ostriches are found in the savannas and deserts in areas with short grass, which provides food and lets them see long distances


Ostrich are very large birds with long necks and legs but relatively small heads. Male ostrich are larger than females and characterized by primarily black with white plumage on their tails and wings. They have a bald crown, ringed with short, stiff, brown feathers. Their beak is yellow above and pink to red below.

Female ostrich are smaller and grayish-brown with light colored feather edges. Their necks are pale pink in color to grayish brown.

Since they don't fly, ostriches have lost the stiff, strong wing and tail feathers that flying birds require. Instead, ostrich feathers are loose and soft. To protect themselves, ostrich have four-inch claws on a cloven foot and can kick hard enough to kill a lion.


Ostriches live in a mixed society of flocks, individuals and families. These groups may range in size from five to fifty or more and peacefully co-exist; however, they stay in their individual flocks. They are often accompanied by zebras or antelopes, which kick up insects and rodents for the birds. In return, the ostriches, with their keen hearing, eyesight, and great height are able to warn other animals of danger.

Ostrich do not hide their heads in the sand to avoid danger. However, to escape danger, they will attempt to look like a rock by flattening its head and neck onto the ground. This may give the appearance from a distance that the head is buried because only the body is visible.

When feeding, ostrich most commonly travel at speeds of 2.5 miles per hour but can sprint at speeds of up 45 miles per hour if alarmed. If cornered, they will kick their predator to defend themselves.

The ostrich has quite an extensive vocal repertoire, using a variety of whistles, snorts and guttural noises to communicate, as well as other sounds such as bill-snapping. The male also produces a loud “booming” call, which sounds rather like the roar of a lion and is produced during display, or at night when a predator is near.

Three of the animals that commonly inhabit the savannah are eland, zebra and ostrich. Zebra and eland eat the grasses and shrubby plants. Ostriches eat the seeds of the plants and the insects and small invertebrates stirred up by the herding animals. To help digest food, ostriches swallow small stones and sand. Like all birds, they have no teeth so they can't chew their food. The stones and pebbles help to grind swallowed food in the gizzard.

Ostriches receive most of their moisture from the plants they eat. However they do enjoy a good bath and will drink and bathe whenever they get a chance!


Right before the start of the rainy season, ostrich form harems. This helps ensure that enough food will be available for the newly hatched chicks. The male puts on an elaborate courtship display that includes the male bowing and waving his feathers toward the female. Once the harem is established, the dominant male mates with all the female members of his harem but forms a pair bond only with the dominant female. Each hen lays two to eleven eggs in a shallow nest dug out by the male's powerful legs.

The dominant male and female incubate the eggs. The dominant female makes sure that her eggs are always in the center of the nest to make sure that they survive. The two parents take turns incubating the nest—the female during the day and the male at night. The female's dull plumage helps her to blend in as she sits on the nest during daylight hours. Likewise, the black feathers of the male blend in with the darkness of the night.

Other males may fight with the dominant male for his harem. Fighting includes loud hissing and slashing at each other with their feet.

About 40 days they are laid, the eggs hatch. A single ostrich egg weighs as much as two dozen chicken eggs. Ostrich chicks are fully feathered at hatching and within a few days will leave their nest and follow their parents around. Ostrich are excellent parents and will defend the hatchlings from predators, shelter them under their wings, and teach them what to eat.

Interesting Facts:

Ostriches are the world’s largest and heaviest birds and although they have wings they are unable to fly. Instead, they use their wings for balance when running, for courtship displays, for protecting their eggs and hatchlings, and for body temperature control.

An ostrich can reach a top speed of up to 45 miles per hour and can take a stride as long as 15 feet!

Despite its relatively small head, it is also notable for having the largest eyes of any land animal, measuring two and half inches in diameter, and protected by long black lashes.

About Our Animals:

The Zoo currently houses two ostriches.

  • Blue (male): born January, 1993, received at Hogle Zoo May 27, 2010
  • Yellow (male): born July 18, 2005, received at Hogle Zoo May 27, 2010

Ostriches were nearly wiped out in the 18th century due to the demand for feathers. By the middle of the 19th century, ostrich farms began to spread, and today, the population is secure.They are farmed for their meat, their skin (which makes good leather) and their soft and attractive feathers, which are prized in the fashion industry and are used as feather dusters! In the wild, ostriches are neither threatened nor endangered.

Did YOU Know?    
The ostrich is the fastest animal on two legs.
Class: birds
Order: Struthioniformes
Family: Struthionidae
Genus: Stuthio
Species: camelus
Height: Males measure 6.9 to 9 feet; females measure 5.7 to 6.2 feet
Weight: Males weigh 220 to 287 pounds; females weigh 198 to 242 pounds
Average Lifespan: 30 to 40 years
Wild Diet: Leaves, roots, flowers, seeds as well as insects and small animals.
Zoo Diet: Grain, hay, and alfalfa
Predators: Lions, jackals and hyenas
Where at the Zoo? Savanna

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