The Ostrich Wins the Race – The ‘Ratite’ Family of Flightless Birds

By, Jo Carol Hebert

download (17)Imagine if the ostriches of Southern Africa invited their cousins around the world to come for a family reunion.

The Masai ostriches of East Africa would come with their beautiful pink necks and legs.

The Northeast Somali ostriches of the Horn of Africa would arrive with their blue necks and legs to rival the Masai ostriches.

The three-toed emus would come from Australia.

The medium-sized rheas would come from South America.

The little kiwis, no bigger than a chicken, would come from New Zealand, off the SE coast of Australia. And the short, heavy and dangerous razor-clawed cassowaries would come from the islands north of Australia.

(But they would all have to fly commercial airline, because they are flightless, remember!)

download (20)Ratite Family Members That Couldn’t Make It

Unfortunately, the Giant Moa of New Zealand, the elephant bird of Madagascar, the Arabian ostrich of the Near East and the Asian ostrich of China would not be able to come because they are extinct.

How Birds Party!

Being omnivores, they might enjoy a picnic of plants with rodents, insects, or lizards. And, they would certainly want to play racing games. The ostrich would win easily at 43 mph, with the emu in second place at 32 mph. The smaller other relatives would just do the best they can.

Did You Know?

  • 90% of all the world’s ostriches are in Africa download (21)
  • An ostrich can cover over 16 feet in one stride
  • An ostrich can weight 250-350 pounds
  • The ostrich swallows sand and pebbles to grind up his food
  • The ostrich has only two toes on each foot
  • An ostrich egg is as big as a dozen chicken eggs
  • The ostrich doesn’t really bury his head in the sand

Why Can’t They Fly? 

The birds of the Ratite family do not have breast bones connected to their flying muscles in the wings that allow for flight.

Why Do They Run So Fast? 

Because they are the ‘main course’ on the lunch menu of the big cats – lions, leopards, cheetahs, and jaguars.

How Can ‘Big Bird’ Run So Fast? 

Ostriches have long slender legs designed for strength, balance, and acceleration. Their wing movements serve them for steering and also balancing at high speed.

More Secrets of Running Fast 

For speed in running, animals and people too, run faster by:

  • increasing the length of the stride or
  • increasing the frequency of steps

The longer legs you have, the greater stride you will have.

giphyThe ostrich can cover over 16-feet in one stride. Both ostrich legs come off the ground at the same time as they bound across the Savannah. All the muscles in the legs of the ostrich are located close to his rounded body. Powerful upper thigh and buttocks muscles accelerate the bird outward.

His rotund body and long outstretched neck provides a perfect center of gravity that keeps his upper body straight while his legs do all the work.

The best runners make it look like they are running effortlessly.

The Outlook for Ostrich Survival

The common ostrich in South Africa is plentiful across the plains and in the woodlandsdownload (19)

The ostrich in the African regions of Kenya and Tanzania are hanging on. The Somali ostrich of Africa is vulnerable. The little kiwi is vulnerable. Rheas are near threatened. Cassowaries are of least concern. But all ratites, like all animals in the wild, are declining, due to the continuing threat of the 2Hs: Hunting by man for meat and plumage, and loss of habitat.

Maybe YOU are a runner? Have you ever tried Track and Field athletic events? These include many different lengths of running, like short, fast distances, relay races with teams, cross country, hurdles, standing and broad jumping, pole vaulting. And you can always just run, for fun! 

Check with your teacher or coach for information on this sport.

Educators and parents check out the FREE pdfs on the Ostrich in our Curriculum Corner!

Categories: Beaks & Bills

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