The North African Ostrich is the largest subspecies of the common ostrich, which is the largest living bird, and one of the best-known subspecies in the world. It’s found in West and North Africa, as well as in zoo breeding and conservation projects all over the world.

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Quick Facts About the North African Ostrich

North African Ostrich
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Breed Name:North African Ostrich (S. camelus camelus)
Place of Origin:Africa
Uses:Meat, egg, leather, feathers, captive breeding programs
Rooster (Male) Size:6.9 to 9 ft and 220 to 300 lbs
Hens (Female) Size:5.7 to 6.2 ft and 198 to 242 lbs
Color:Black with white feathers (male), brown or gray (female)
Lifespan:30 to 40 years, 50 in captivity
Climate Tolerance:Hot, dry climates
Care Level:Difficult

North African Ostrich Origins

Like all ostrich subspecies, the North African Ostrich originated in Africa. It once had a wide range, but its numbers have declined in many areas. Several subspecies—or races—of ostriches exist, but the North African is the largest and most familiar.

Its numbers likely declined due to habitat destruction and hunting. Efforts to breed and reintroduce North African ostriches have been successful in national parks, including the Dghoumes and Sidi Toui National Parks and the Orbata Faunal Reserve. It’s otherwise extinct in the wilds of Tunisia and some other parts of Africa but may be seen in small populations in Chad, Cameroon, Senegal, and the Central African Republic.

north african ostrich sitting
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North African Ostrich Characteristics

Like other ostriches, the North African Ostrich is a large bird that reaches up to 9 feet and up to 300 pounds. Roosters are black with white plumage on their wings, neck, and tails, while the females are gray or brown. The legs and necks are bare and pinkish red.

North African Ostriches are ill-tempered and may become aggressive, especially when threatened. They tend to be territorial, even in captivity, and can be unpredictable. They also compete for mates during the breeding season and may become more dangerous during this time.


Ostriches are farmed for meat, eggs, leather, and feathers, though this is not common with the North African Ostrich. This subspecies is classified as critically endangered and illegal to keep in captivity, whether for farming or as a pet.

Furthermore, ostrich farming is best left to experienced professionals. Ostriches are large, aggressive birds that only get worse as they age, so ostrich domestication hasn’t been very successful. In addition, ostrich farming has a variable market for feathers, meat, hides, and eggs, which is why only a few hundred farms still exist in the U.S.

north african ostrich standing
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Appearance & Varieties

North African Ostriches have no color variations or varieties. The males are always large, with thick black feathers with white tips on the wings, neck, and tail. The females are always brown or gray and smaller than the males.

The subspecies of the North African Ostrich arose because of different populations of ostriches that were once considered separate species. Now, researchers recognize these populations and their distinctions as races or subspecies, like the North African Ostrich. Otherwise, they’re all part of the same common ostrich species.


The North African Ostrich is found from western to northeastern Africa. Its range was once from Ethiopia and Sudan in the east to Senegal and Mauritania in the west, south to Morocco, and north to Egypt, but it has been missing from large portions of this natural range.

This adaptable bird can be found on savannahs and in open fields, though the introduced North African Ostriches in Israel thrive in semi-desert areas, plains, and grasslands. According to some sources, the North African Ostrich is considered critically endangered and is part of the Sahara Conservation Fund.

north african ostrich walking
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Are North African Ostriches Good for Small-Scale Farming?

Ostriches may be raised for meat, eggs, or leather in small-scale farming, but North African Ostriches are usually only found in captivity in zoos. They’re typically kept as part of breeding populations for reintroduction and conservation projects.

The North African Ostrich is the best known of the ostrich subspecies. It’s found in Africa, like other ostrich subspecies, and has been driven to extinction in some areas from habitat loss and hunting. Now, small populations are found in different parts of western and northern Africa, and captive breeding programs and reintroduction efforts are trying to rebuild wild populations in national parks and wildlife reserves.

Featured Image Credit: Sergey Kosachev, Shutterstock