The Common ostrich is not likely to be confused with any other bird in the southern African region. Weighing in at up to 130 kg and with a length of up to 2,7 m there is not another bird in the region that comes remotely close to matching it in size. Besides its size – it is the biggest living species of bird – its long legs and long neck make it a very distinctive bird. It also has enormous eyes, perhaps the biggest of any vertebrate anywhere!

The flightless Common ostrich is a member of the same large family as other flightless birds such as the kiwi and the emu. It is able to run faster than any other bird, with a top speed approaching 95 km per hour. The males are slightly larger than the females, and the sexes differ in plumage, with the males having predominantly black feathers, with some white on the wings and tail. The females are a drab grey. Both sexes have bare legs and necks. Bills are broad and flat.

The Common ostrich is one of the very few species of birds that is farmed on a large scale; for its feathers that are used in fashion and also for feather dusters, for its meat and for its skin which is used for a variety of leather goods. The feathers differ from those of most other birds in that they lack the tiny hooks that lock them together, and so the feathers of the Common ostrich are quite fluffy.

Although Common ostriches are generally fairly common, the wild population is quite small, and is limited to the arid regions of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. They are quite nomadic, and form flocks of up to fifty or more birds as they move through the drier areas of southern Africa, feeding mainly on vegetable matter, but also on insects and other invertebrates, If threatened they will usually run away, but if cornered they can defend themselves very ably with powerful kicks.

Common ostriches are polygamous and make a nest that is just a scraped hollow in the ground. Several females may lay their eggs in the same nest, until the clutch reaches twenty or more eggs. The eggs are the largest eggs of any bird, and they hatch after an incubation period of approximately 40 days. They make good use of their dimorphic colouring as camouflage during incubation, with the grey females incubating the eggs during the day and the black males during the night.

The scientific binomial for the Common ostrich is Struthio camelus; Struthio from the Latin for an “ostrich”; and camelus from the Latin for “pertaining to a camel”. So “Struthio” makes sense, but I have no idea about “pertaining to a camel”!

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