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Ostriches and other ratites

OstrichOstrichThe ostrich, the world's largest bird, belongs to the ratite group of birds, which also includes rheas, emus, cassowaries and kiwis. They are all flightless birds: their tail and flight feathers are plumes—useless for flight. They have no keel on their sternum (breastbone), which flying birds have to anchor their wing muscles. Most ratites are tall, long-necked birds that live in wide open spaces. They use their excellent eyesight to spot predators at a distance, and their long, powerful legs to run away at top speed.

Female ostrich with chicksFemale ostrich with chicks
Male ostrichMale ostrich


The ostrich lives on Africa’s dry grasslands. Too big to fly, it is the fastest creature on two legs. Its powerful legs and two-toed feet take it across the ground at speeds of up to 70 km/h (more than 40 mph). Ostriches have very long necks and good eyesight, which helps them to spot danger from far off. They run away when threatened, but if attacked they are capable of causing serious injury with kicks from their powerful legs.

Ostriches feed mostly on plant shoots, leaves, flowers and seeds. Females lay their eggs in a shallow pit dug in the sandy soil. Ostrich eggs are the largest laid by any bird—about 40 times the size of a hen’s egg.


Ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand. To hide from predators, they lay their heads on the ground. This makes the birds look like mounds of soil from a distance.

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