by Mina Arnold Young
The ostrich is the giant of the bird world. A large one may weigh three hundred pounds and stand eight feet tall, but almost half of the height is neck.
The ostrich used to be called the "camel bird." Like a camel, it has a long neck and a humping walk, and can go for a long time without water. The male has a glossy black body and white wing and tail plumes. The female is dull gray and white. Legs and neck are mostly bare. Birds like ostriches and kiwis have feathers all over their bodies, unlike flying birds, whose feathers grow in patches.
Ostriches have large eyes with long black eyelashes. The beak is quite flat. An ostrich has only two toes on each foot, and one of them is much larger than the other. On this toe is a short toenail, something like a hoof.
Ostriches eat plants and small animals. They like to travel with herds of antelope or zebras and other grass-eating animals. The hoofed animals stir up little creatures that the ostrich likes to eat. The other animals like to have ostriches with them. The tall birds can see for miles in the flat country where they live. They can see danger coming a long way off. When the ostrich runs, the other animals know they should run too.
An ostrich can run faster than most horses. A large ostrich will sometimes take steps twenty-five feet long!
When an ostrich runs, it spreads its wings out to help it keep its balance. Its wings are too small for flying.
Some people think that a long time ago ostriches had strong wings and could fly, but they stopped flying so their wings got smaller and smaller. But lions live where ostriches do. It is hard to believe that ostriches would have stopped using their wings for flying if they had ever been able to do so.
An ostrich family includes a male and one or more females. The females all lay their eggs in one nest and may take turns incubating them in the daytime. They don't have to keep them warm, though! They spread their wings over them to shade them from the sun.
When a female ostrich is on the nest she may lay her head and neck on the ground in front of her. That way, an enemy looking at her from a distance might mistake her for a bush! The male takes over at night, when there is more danger that other creatures might try to steal the eggs.
The baby ostriches are covered with very stiff down and look more like porcupines than birds. When they are first hatched they are about the size of chickens, but are almost as large as their parents in six months.
In many countries, ostriches have been raised for their plumes. Some have been tamed and harnessed to little carts so children could ride.
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