The African ostrich (Struthio camelus), or common ostrich, is a colossal bird that can grow up to 9 feet tall and weigh up to 350 pounds. However, being this heavy and impressive comes with a price—you won’t see one of these massive birds flying over the African steppes! You guessed it, ostriches are flightless. But luckily, Mother Nature blessed them with phenomenal running skills.

So, how fast can the ostrich run? What are the features that make this bird such a fleet runner? And above all, is it a champion in its category? Where does it rank among the other swift creatures of the earth? Ostriches can sprint at a speed of 43 miles per hour (mph). Keep reading as we explain further.

divider-multipet How Fast Can an Ostrich Run?

Although they can’t fly, ostriches are super-fast and mighty runners. According to National Geographic, they can sprint up to 43 miles per hour (mph). Their wings serve as “rudders” to help them change direction quickly during their frantic race. Even better, their long and powerful legs allow them strides of up to 16 feet!

Additionally, the ostrich has tremendous stamina and can maintain a speed of 31 mph for almost half an hour and break into a light trot at 19 mph for an hour. Enough to make lions and hyenas bite the dust!

But can the ostrich compete with the other fastest biped in the world, the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt? Totally! In fact, the giant ratite beats it hands down: the famous athlete recorded a top speed of 27.33 mph, so well below the big bird. Fortunately for him, the ostrich is not allowed in athletic competitions!

Ostrich standing in a dry field
Image Credit: polyfish, Pixabay

How Do Ostriches Run So Fast?

Ostriches have a few anatomical features that facilitate their insane speed and stamina:

  • Huge, springy legs with bulky, well-developed muscles. The most muscular part of the ostrich’s leg is located on the top and close to the body. Thus, the lower leg is very light and easy to swing, allowing both a faster pace and a longer stride length.
  • Atrophied wings. Their large wings, useless for flight, are excellent for stabilizing and balancing the large bird during a frantic race
  • Ostrich joints are stabilized by ligaments. This dramatically improves their endurance, as they don’t have to waste precious energy from their powerful muscles to stabilize themselves during the run. Their flexible ligaments take care of that.
  • Two-toed feet. Unlike most birds, ostriches have only two toes, with soft soles to cushion the shock of their powerful strides. The larger toe acts as a spring shock absorber, while the second is used for stabilization.

All these anatomical features make ostriches incredible racing machines!

Why Do Ostriches Run Fast?

Ostriches evolved to adapt to life on land, which gradually made them lose the use of their wings (we are talking about an adaptation that took place over a period of millions of years). So, unlike birds that can cover long aerial distances to find their food, ostriches must rely solely on their legs. Running extremely quickly and covering long distances without getting tired are therefore adaptations that allow ostriches to survive in the vast African plains.

Ostriches’ impressive running skills also allow them to quickly outrun predators. However, it is true that apart from humans, ostriches do not have many natural enemies. Lions, hyenas, and cheetahs are sometimes foolhardy enough to attack an adult ostrich, but since one powerful kick from this large bird is enough to wipe out a lion, these predators prefer to focus on young birds.

two ostrich running
Image Credit: Piqsels

How Far Can an Ostrich Run?

There is no data on the maximum distance run by an ostrich, but knowing that it can maintain a speed of 31 miles per hour, with speed peaks at 43 mph, we can estimate that it travels at least 40 miles per hour, non-stop. But given that its great stamina allows it to quickly outrun its predators, it is unlikely that an ostrich would actually have to run for an hour without stopping unless, of course, it has to cross an arid desert area quickly to find food.

Can an Ostrich Outrun a Cheetah?

Its speed has made it famous: the cheetah tops out at over 70 mph, traveling up to 26 feet per stride and four strides per second. It’s a superb sprinter, capable of accelerating to 45mph in just two seconds and then to 55mph in a further second. It holds an average speed of 60 mph over 500 m but does not exceed 31 mph over longer distances. Thus, a cheetah can easily overtake an ostrich for a very short distance, but the risk that it decides to attack such a bird is minimal. This somewhat delicate feline is well aware of the ostrich’s deadly kicks!

ostrich in the wild
Image Credit: Piqsels

Can an Ostrich Outrun a Lion?

Despite its reputation as the majestic but lazy king of beasts, the lion reaches an impressive top speed of 50 mph. So, a lion can theoretically outrun an ostrich, but only a short distance, because it doesn’t have the same stamina as the big bird. However, it is rare for a lion to attack an adult ostrich, for the same reason mentioned above: the legs of ostriches are formidable weapons, capable of eviscerating a lion’s belly thanks to the long rear claw of their feet.

Can a Human Outrun an Ostrich?

Compared to other land animals, humans have an exceptional capacity for endurance, but it is impossible for them to reach a high top speed. Usain Bolt set the 100 m world record in 9.58 seconds, which represents a top speed of 27.33 mph. This is, to date, the maximum speed that a human has been able to reach.

To find out where the ostrich ranks in the list of fastest animals in the world, take a look at the following table:

Fastest Animals in the World

RankAnimalCategoryMaximum Speed (mph)
1Peregrine FalconFastest Bird242 mph
2Horse FlyFastest Insect90 mph
3Black MarlinFastest Fish80 mph
4CheetahFastest Land Animal75 mph
*LionSecond Fastest Wild Cat50 mph
*OstrichFastest Biped Land Animal43 mph
*Usain BoltFastest Human27.33 mph
north african ostrich sitting
Image Credit: Ian Peter Morton, Shutterstock

divider-multipet Final Thoughts

The ostrich compensates for its inability to fly with terrific running skills, reaching a top speed of 43 mph. But that’s nothing compared to the speeds that the fastest animals in the world can achieve. The peregrine falcon is the undisputed ruler of the skies, reaching a mind-blowing speed of 242 mph. On land, the cheetah’s speed is unmatched: it could even outrun a car on the highway! And the average human in all this? Well, with an average speed of 8 mph, you better avoid ending up in the clutches of a hungry cheetah or lion!

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Featured Image Credit: mbredl, Pixabay