Ostrich, the type of a group of terrestrial rasorial birds, with the cassowary, apteryx, dinornis and its extinct congeners, constituting the family struthionidoe. The genus struthio (Linn.) has a broad and depressed bill, with flattened culmen and strong rounded tip, the upper mandible overlapping the under; the oval nostrils are in a broad, membranous groove, near the middle of the bill; the wings are short and imperfect, with long, bending, and soft plumes; the tail moderate, composed of curled pendent feathers; tarsi very long and robust, covered with hexagonal scales, transverse in front near the toes; toes two, short and strong, connected at the base by mem-brane, the outer short and much padded, and the other larger, with a stout, broad, flat nail. The only species is the African ostrich (S. camelus, Linn.), the largest of present birds, and excelled in former geological epochs only by some species of dinornis and palapteryx; it stands 7 or 8 ft. high, and weighs from 80 to 100 lbs. The skeleton is much as in other birds, except that the bones of the wings are rudimentary, the sternum flat and without keel, the pubic arch united in front, and the bones almost entirely destitute of air cells.
The males are of a more or less black color, except the loose feathers of the wings and tail, which are white; the female is dark brownish gray, as also are the half-grown males. The head and neck are nearly naked, and the plumage generally is very loose, admirably suited for the climate, protecting from the sun's heat and at the same time allowing perfect ventilation; the quills of the wings and tail are remarkable for the length of the barbs, which, though having barbules, remain separate from each other; it is for these long white feathers of the wings and tail that the ostrich is hunted, the best being considered those taken from the males and from the living bird; some of the plumage is so coarse as to resemble hair, and the wings have two plumeless shafts like porcupines' quills. The best ostrich feathers come from the Levant and the N. and W. coasts of Africa. Ostriches inhabit the dry sandy plains of Africa from the Barbary states and Egypt to the Cape of Good Hope. The hearing and sight are very acute, and the length of the neck and high position of the eye enable them to perceive any approaching object; they are very shy, and escape either by a quick stately walk or rapid run.
When feeding the stride is from 20 to 22 in., when walking but not feeding 2G in., and when terrified from 11½ to 14 ft.; taking 12 ft. as the average stride, they would accomplish about 25 m. an hour. Bushmen clothe themselves in one of their skins, and under cover of this get near enough the stupid creatures to kill them with a poisoned arrow. When hotly pursued they sometimes turn upon their enemies, giving severe wounds with their feet. Their food consists of fruits, grain, leguminous vegetables, leaves and tender shoots, insects and snails, and such other food as can be picked up, in securing which a considerable quantity of stones is swallowed; the crop is enormous, and the gizzard very powerful; in confinement particularly, they are fond of swallowing all kinds of indigestible substances, some of which may be taken to aid in digestion, but most from mere stupid voracity. They begin to lay eggs before a spot has been fixed upon for a nest, and these solitary eggs are often found lying forsaken all over a district; the nest is a simple hollow in the sand, from 3 to 6 ft. in diameter, with a shallow border; in this are laid by a single bird or many in company from 12 to 50 or GO eggs, which are incubated at night and left to the heat of the sun during the day; outside the nest are scattered several eggs, which the Hottentots say are for the first food of the young; the males assist in incubation, and in taking care of the young till they can provide for themselves; when the young attain the size of a common fowl they run with great speed.
The capacity of an ostrich egg is equal to that of 24 hens' eggs, and a single one will weigh 2 or 3 lbs.; the eggs have a strong disagreeable flavor, relished however by the Bushmen, who not only devour the contents but use the shells as water vessels; entire eggs are often suspended as ornaments in Mussulman and even in Christian churches in the East. The flesh of the young bird is said to be palatable, resembling that of a tough turkey; old birds are apt to be loaded with fat. The ostrich is timid and inoffensive, and easily tamed. The rearing of ostriches is a very profitable employment in South Africa, and efforts are being made to introduce the excellent breed of this region into Algeria and South x\merica. Every pair of ostriches is kept in its own enclosure, and the eggs are either incubated by them or by a hatching machine, which latter process secures a large percentage of young birds. A pair will give as many as 20 chickens, which are stripped of their feathers for the first time when they are about 18 months old; before that time the feathers are not highly esteemed.
The wholesale price of good feathers in South Africa is $200 a pound, and the annual produce of a young bird reaches the value of about $40. A full-grown pair of ostriches is worth £700 to $800, and a young bird, six months old, fetches from $150 to $200. Ostriches were well known in ancient times, and their brains served as food on the tables of the Romans; a poetical description of them is given in Job xxxix. 13-18. - In the genus rhea (Möhr), the nandou or American ostrich, the bill is less thick, and more curved at the tip; the wings are short and imperfect, with long soft feathers; the tail not apparent; toes three, the inner the shortest. The best known species (R. Americana, Lath.) is about half the size of the African ostrich, of a uniform grayish tint, brownish on the back; the head is covered with feathers, and the long plumage of the wings and rump is used only for making feather brushes. It is a shy, solitary, and very fleet bird, yet easily captured on horseback by the lasso, or by tripping it up; it runs generally against the wind; it can cross rivers, swimming with the body very deep. The food consists of roots, grasses, and sometimes mollusks and fish.
The nest is a shallow excavation, in which several females deposit each from 14 to 20 eggs; many eggs are laid scattered over the plain, which the male rolls together with his bill, hatching the young and bravely defending them; it is clearly polygamous.
African Ostrich (Struthio camelus).
American Ostrich (Rhea Americana).