Common Ostriches (struthio camelus) are the world’s largest flightless birds with a long neck and legs. Females are brownish gray while the males are black with white wings and tail feathers. They are the fastest bird species with a maximum running speed of more than 64km/h in a single stride, weighing as much as 400 pounds. The ostrich has long, muscular legs built for running, each leg has 2 toes on its foot which allows greater speed while running and in case of a threat, the legs can also be a formidable weapon. The ostrich’s kick can seriously harm or kill a human or potential predator like lion. Ostrich’s wings reach a span of about 2 meters and are used in mating displays to shade chicks and to cover the naked skin of the upper legs and flanks to conserve heat. The wings are also used as a rudder to help change direction while running. There are basically two races of common ostriches, nominate and massaicus.
Ostriches are omnivores. They feed on seeds, shrubs, grass, fruits, flowers, insects and locusts. Ostriches can withstand hot temperatures and go for long period of time without water; they can make their own water internally and top up with what they can extract from vegetation. Ostriches swallow pebbles and sand to grind their food. An adult ostrich carries about 1kg of stones in its stomach.
During the breeding season the dominant male performs the courtship dance by shaking his wings and tail feathers, if the main hen is impressed, the two will mate. The other hens in the group may also mate with the dominant male. The dominant male creates a nest out of sand where all the eggs are laid and each female determines her own eggs amongst others in the communal nest. The main hen puts her eggs in the center of the nest so they have the best chance of hatching. Both males and females ostriches share the job of incubating eggs, that is the male ostrich incubates the eggs by night while the dominant female during the day. The communal nest may have a round 60 eggs. Eggs hatch after about 40 days. The male usually defends the hatchling and teaches them to feed although they both the male and female cooperate in rearing chicks. Ostriches are sexually mature at 3 to 4 years as male develop a striking black and white plumage while the females remain with a brown plumage.
Common Ostriches live in nomadic groups of about 5 to 50 birds led by a dominant male and a dominant female. The dominant male defends the territory in case of trouble his warning call is loud and deep. Ostriches also hiss to show their disapproval. Ostriches sometimes graze among zebras, antelopes and giraffes, their presence are useful because they alert other animals when danger is near. The ostrich has unique abilities that make it well adapt to living in the savanna and desert areas, in Uganda they are restricted to Kidepo Valley National Park. Common Ostriches live for 30 to 50 years. Predators of the chicks include cheetah, jackal, warthog and Egyptian vulture.