Conservation Education and Science
Animal Facts & Photos  
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SCIENTIFIC NAME: Struthio camelus
ORDER: Struthioniformes
FAMILY: Struthionidae
RANGE: Africa, Syria, Arabia
HABITAT: Semi-arid deserts, open plains and thorn-scrub
DIET: Grasses, herbs, leaves, and some small insects, rodents and reptiles

The ostrich is the largest and heaviest living bird. Completely flightless, it covers large distances with speed and stamina on its powerful legs. Due to its size and preferred habitat, the ostrich regularly associates with antelope, zebra and other herbivorous animals.

The ostrich has remarkable breeding behavior. A dominant male defends a territory of up to four square miles (the size depends upon the habitat). He is usually paired with a single female known as the major hen, but also mates with other females within the area. The male excavates a shallow scrape into which the major hen lays a clutch of five-to-11 eggs. Minor hens, mated with by the less-than-faithful male, typically add to the clutch with their own eggs (two to six); however, they do no incubation. The dominant male and major hen share incubation duties, with the cryptically plumaged female on the nest during the day and the black-plumaged male after dark. Close to 80 eggs may accumulate in a single nest, but only 20 or so will hatch as this is the approximate number a single incubating bird can cover. The major hen seems able to distinguish her own eggs from those of other hens and will arrange the clutch so her own eggs are always covered.

Banded mongooses and Egyptian vultures pose a threat to the eggs, as they crack the shells by repeatedly striking them with small rocks. Adult ostriches take good care of their young, and will defend them against predators with distraction displays. Interestingly, if two family groups encounter one another, a clash may break out between the rival adults and the victors often make off with the brood of their opponents!