Ostriches are the world’s largest birds. Flightless, the ostrich once roamed wild in Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. Ostriches became quite popular for their feathers, which were often used in women’s hats, and this had terrible repercussions for the animal. Unfortunately, ostriches were hunted into extinction on every continent except for Africa, where the only wild ostriches remain.

These birds are very adaptive and have survived numerous extinction events, even if some populations couldn’t escape the reach of humans. There are two species of ostrich: the common ostrich and the Somali ostrich. Both inhabit their respective regions of sub-Saharan Africa, with the commons in the south and the Somalis in the north.

Though they are not considered to be endangered, their populations are on the decline. With that said, ostriches are now commonly farmed and while they are native to hot climates, they can survive in temperatures ranging from -22ºF all the way up to 86ºF!

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Are Ostriches a Dinosaur?

Yes! In fact, all birds are descended from dinosaurs. These birds are of a prehistoric lineage that dates back 66 million years. Indeed, ostrich precursors are crane-like birds, named Eogruidae and Ergilornithidae that lived in central Asia during the Cenozoic geological era.

One of the hallmark features of ostriches is their feet: they are the only living birds with only 2 toes, but tall, didactyl birds existed during the Cenozoic in Asia. Ostriches can grow up to 9 feet tall, making them easily the world’s largest bird. Ostriches did inherit some of the physical characteristics of their ancestors—but what about their diet?

Male Somali
Image Credit: Ostrich_Steve Tum, Shutterstock

What Do Ostriches Eat?

Ostriches, like people, are omnivores and eat plants and animals alike. For ostriches, plants are also a main source of hydration. Water can be hard to come by during certain seasons in parts of Africa, and so the mighty ostrich has evolved to survive by getting its water from the plants that it eats. These include berries, grass, leaves, and shrubs.

These birds do primarily eat vegetation, however, if the opportunity presents itself, they will eat meat as well. Insects, rodents, lizards, and snakes will make the menu if they are available.

Are Ostriches Aggressive?

Yes. Not only are ostriches giant, powerful birds, but they are also quite aggressive and can be unpredictable. Those long, powerful legs which propel them the better part of 20 feet per stride are also very formidable weapons. Their kicks are devastating to predators and can kill humans and predators alike! That is a powerful bird. They might be a little weird-looking, but they deserve some respect (as do all living creatures)! The physical characteristics of an ostrich are downright impressive. They aren’t just tough, they’re among the quickest land animals that exist!

two ostrich running
Image Credit: Piqsels

How Fast Can an Ostrich Run?

A frightened ostrich can run up to 45 miles an hour over a short distance, but it can also keep a good pace up over a long distance. It uses its small wings as a rudder to assist with steering, so to speak. These birds are well built to run very fast, and they are perfectly balanced with their center of gravity residing at the head.

An ostrich can sustain a speed of about 30–31 miles per hour for 30 minutes! That is some heat on the track, and with cheetahs roaming the savannah, they need it. While a cheetah might still be able to clock an ostrich over a short distance, if it doesn’t catch the bird quickly, he won’t get it at all. That’s right, these guys are tough enough to take on a lion and quick enough to evade a cheetah—ostriches are quite the capable birds.

Do Ostriches Live in Flocks?

It might sound strange, but you don’t call a group of ostriches a flock. They live in small herds, and like a lion pride or a wolf pack, they are run by an alpha male. The alpha male will have a primary mate—the dominant female, however, the male will also mate with other females in the herd (typical). A usual herd of ostriches is no more than 12 deep.

flock of ostrich
Image Credit: Piqsels

Do Ostriches Actually Bury Their Heads in the Sand?

No, they don’t—this is a misconception of behavior that ostriches do in fact exhibit, however. When an ostrich can see that there is a problem up ahead, it will instinctively duck down in an effort to keep a low profile. As the bird’s head is quite similarly colored to the soil where it lives, it can have this appearance. However, the old image of the frightened ostrich burying its head in the sand is false, and frankly, kind of silly—how would it breathe?

Are Ostriches Related to Emus? What’s the Difference?

These two birds may appear very similar, and indeed they are cousins, but to be clear, they are very distant cousins. They look quite alike, and that’s really where the similarities end.

Emus don’t live in Africa—they’re Australian. They have three toes as compared to the ostrich which has two, and do not grow to be quite as large as their African cousins. Another distinction is in their diet and temperament. Emus are herbivores, and while they might snatch up an insect if the opportunity arises, that is the extent of their predatory behavior. Emus aren’t as aggressive as an ostrich but can be dangerous if provoked or threatened. They aren’t as powerful as an ostrich, but an emu is large enough to seriously hurt a person if they want to.leaves divider leaf


Ostriches, while peculiar in appearance, are actually one of the most unique, adaptable, and interesting species of birds out there. The main lesson here is clear—don’t mess with ostriches!

  • https://www.britannica.com/animal/ostrich
  • https://www.livescience.com/27433-ostriches.html
  • https://ijvr.shirazu.ac.ir/article_1084_16026a1de1a104067949c765dc03ca9f.pdf
  • https://www.bluereefaquarium.co.uk/hastings/blog/news/10-living-descendants-and-relatives-of-dinosaurs/
  • https://animals.mom.com/difference-between-emu-ostrich-7643.html
  • https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/facts/ostrich

Featured Image Credit: K. Sweet, Shutterstock