Ostrich, a large, flightless bird that lives in the dry grasslands of Africa. Ostriches are raised for their feathers and skins in South Africa, Egypt, and California. They form the single remaining species in an ancient, primitive order of birds.

Largest of all birds, the ostrich is seven to eight feet (2.1 to 2.4 m) tall, and has a long, thin neck and a small, flat head with large, brown eyes. The males, slightly larger than the females, reach a weight of about 300 pounds (135 kg). The ostrich has small, weak wings and strong legs. Its feet are two-toed, the longer toe measuring seven inches (18 cm).

The ostrichThe ostrich towers over his cousin, the bee hummingbird.

Ostriches are well adapted for life on the grasslands. They eat seeds and grasses and require little water. They have keen eyesight. Wild ostriches are usually found grazing with zebras, gnus, and antelopes. They are wary and seem to warn other animals when danger approaches. Ostriches can attain a speed of 45 miles per hour (72 km/h).

When cornered, the ostrich defends itself with slashing downward kicks. Domesticated males are aggressive and tend to chase humans and dogs. An ostrich's voice is a loud hiss or a roar.

A male ostrich has black feathers on most of its body. At the ends of its wings and tail are the white ostrich plumes valued for decoration. The female's plumage is grayish brown. Both sexes have sparse white down on the head, neck, and legs, revealing the pinkish-gray skin beneath.

Ostriches mate three times a year. Each male mates with two to six females, who all lay their eggs in the same nest, a depression in the sand. The yellowish-white eggs are six to nine inches (15 to 23 cm) long and weigh about three pounds (1.4 kg) each—more than the weight of two dozen chicken eggs. During the day, the females take turns sitting on the eggs. At night the male sits on the eggs.

In six weeks the eggs hatch. When the chicks are a few hours old, they are able to follow their parents. They grow rapidly, but do not mature until they are three or four years old. Ostriches have an average life span of 40 to 45 years.

There is no basis for the common belief that, in the presence of danger, ostriches bury their heads in the sand Chicks, however, will flatten out on the ground when frightened and flee only when danger is very close.