Ostriches are the largest living birds in the world. Weighing up to 320 pounds and standing up to 9 feet tall, it’s no wonder that these birds are flightless. While they can reach impressive running speeds, many people question why these birds have wings at all if they can’t use them, since they cannot fly. This article will tell you exactly why an ostrich can’t fly and how its wings have evolved to be used.

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Can an Ostrich Fly?

Ostriches cannot fly because their wings are incapable of lifting their heavy bodies into the air. They belong to a group of birds called ratites, which include emus, kiwis, and cassowaries. These birds lack a body part along their breast bones called a keel that is required for holding the pectoral muscles that assist with flying.

Why Do Ostriches Have Wings if They Are Flightless?

To put it simply, ostriches still have wings because their ancestors had wings and were once flying birds. As time has passed, these birds no longer needed to fly, so they lost their ability to. These features are known as vestigial structures. Vestigial structures are features that once had a function for an organism’s ancestors but or no longer necessary for the modern species. However, they aren’t always functionless. Ostriches still use their wings for several purposes.

Image Credit: DukeAsh, Pixabay

Courtship Displays

One of the biggest uses for an ostrich’s wings is courtship rituals. These birds use their wings to attract their mates. They tend to use their tail feathers mostly, but the wings are also involved. The striking black and white colors attract the light-brown-colored females.

The mating display often involved the male sinking slowly to the ground, almost as if he is bowing, and then alternatively waving and shaking the feathers of his wings. At the same time, he moves his tail up and down. The performance looks like a dance and, if he’s successful, will impress the female with his dominance and power.

Maintaining Balance

Ostriches are fast runners, with some reaching speeds of over 45 miles per hour. They often spread their wings out while they run to help provide balance, especially when changing direction.


Ostriches can be aggressive and showing their dominance to other birds is part of life in the wild. The birds will lift their wings and hold their heads as high as possible, and the ostrich that submits will lower their heads and drop their wings.

Shading Their Young

Even though they can’t use them to fly, these birds have a wide wingspan that is perfect for shading their young in the scorching desert heat.

ostrich in the wild
Image Credit: Piqsels

Ostrich Feather Characteristics

Birds that can’t fly don’t usually have the same feather characteristics as those that can. Flying birds have feathers that are tightly packed together and sleek. On the other hand, Ostriches have loose feathers that have a shaggier appearance. They often stick out in clumps, and the colors range from black and white to brown.

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Final Thoughts

It seems silly that birds would have wings if they can’t use them. We have to remember that these animals did fly at one point, but evolution eventually made them lose this ability because it was no longer necessary for their survival. While they may not be able to fly, their wings still serve a purpose and help them to procreate and survive in their natural habitats.

Featured Image Credit: polyfish, Pixabay