Thursday, November 10, 2011
Ostrich - A Bird With Its Head Out of the Sand
My first Ostrich was this male seen in Kruger National Park on September 11, 2011. When I first saw the bird my reaction was the same as when I saw my first Giraffe and my first Elephant - its real but it can't possibly be real.
The bird was some distance from me walking around in savanna grasslands looking for succulent plants to eat for its lunch. I was dumbfounded by the enormity of this bird - the largest extant bird on earth. As I drove closer I kept asking myself if it really was a bird. A bird without functional wings that can run up to 43 miles per hour and has clawed feet that can kill a human or even a lion.
Phylogenetically the Ostrich is the most primative bird on earth. In that same category are the two species of Rhea from South America, the Emu from Australia, and the Cassowary's from northern Australia and adjacent Papua New Guinea. All of them are tall, flightless and can run like the wind - which is how they have been able to survive for so many years.
Ostrich generally live in "herds" made up of one dominant male, a dominant female and several subordinate females. He gets to breed all the females and each female lays her massive eggs in a communal nest. The dominant females eggs are in the center of the nest and those of the subordinates are around hers.
Ostrich live in open habitats throughout South Africa including on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean at Cape of Good Hope.
Contrary to popular misinformation, ostrich don't put their head in the sand thinking they can avoid danger. This old yarn probably got its start from watching ostriches lower their head to ground level in an impossible attempt to make themselves less visible. Any bird standing 6 feet tall living on savanna that looks like the prairie in Kidder County North Dakota is going to have a difficult time not sticking out like a sore thumb.
Although ostrich is a popular food item in the United States I had never eaten it until one night in Swellendam when I saw it on the menu. I ordered an ostrich steak that was served with seared asparagus and brussel sprouts. I needed a sturdy knife to cut through the very lean and very rich meat. Several sources have said that ostrich is a heart-healthy food item and after my one experience I have to agree with that assessment.
Ostrich eggs were commonly sold in many stores as momentos of someone's trip to South Africa. I was tempted on several occasions to buy one - what a conversation piece it would be. However I wasn't sure if it was a CITES protected species so rather than have it confiscated I left them sitting on shelves all over South Africa. Maybe next time I'll buy one and claim ignorance of the law if I get caught.