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Facts About The Ostrich In Kidepo National Park

The Ostrich also known as the Struthio camelus, a flightless bird is the world’s largest bird. In Uganda the Ostrich is only found in Kidepo National Park in the north eastern part of the country and are therefore endemic to Africa and live in the savanna areas of Africa. They are huge flightless birds characterized with a small head, wings, massive legs and two large forward pointing toes. There are basically two races of the common ostrich, the nominate and the massaicus, the latter is more widespread than the former. These birds are very unique and have the following unique features:

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n both sexes the height is about 2.5meters.The adult male ostrich has brown eyes, black body feathers, white wings and a tail that is often stained with local soil color and has a pink neck and legs. The legs are usually brighter during the breeding season. The adult female is largely brown while the massaicus is grayish-brown, thus both races have dull pinkish-brown or brown legs. BBC

The chicks have black heads and necks, mottled backs and stripped buff and their maturity ranges from 3-4 years. Ostriches’ wings reach a span of about 2 metres and are used in mating displays, to shade chicks, to cover the naked skin of the upper legs and flanks to conserve heat, and as “rudders” to help them change direction while running.

Ostriches have three stomachs, and unlike all other living birds, the ostrich secrets urine separately from feaces. They also Lack teeth, they therefore swallow pebbles to grind their food and an adult ostrich carries about 1kg of stones in its stomach.

The male organ is in the inside of the body only visible when it is passing waste. A female ostrich becomes fertile at six years. Unlike most birds the males have a copulatory organ, which is retractable and 20 cm long. More so the Ostrich has the largest eye of any land animal, measuring almost 5 cm across, allowing predators such as lions to be seen at long distances.

Ostriches are the fast runners of any birds or other two-legged animal and can sprint at over 70 km/hr, covering up to 5m in a single stride; they also walk at an average of 4km/hour. Ostriches’ running is aided by having just two toes on each foot (most birds have four), with the large nail on the larger, inner toe resembling a hoof. When threatened, ostriches run although their powerful, long legs can be formidable weapons, capable of killing a human or a potential predator like a lion with a forward kick.

Territorial fights between males for a harem of two to seven females usually last just minutes, but they can easily cause death through slamming their heads into opponents.

Ostriches like dust bathing and at times you may find them burying their heads in the sand while the rest of the body is seen. They also perform a complex mating ritual consisting of the cock its beating until he attracts a mate. They graze until their behavior is synchronized, then the feeding becomes secondary and the process takes on a ritualistic appearance. The cock will then excitedly flap alternate wings again, and starts poking on the ground with his bill. He will then violently flap his wings to symbolically clear out a nest in the dirt.

The males booming calls are a deep vibrant sound that can almost be mistake for a lions roar, and can be heard over 1 km. Then, while the hen runs circle around him with lowered wings, he will wind his head in a spiral motion. She will drop to the ground and he will mount for copulation. They are generally silent but during mating season, Ostriches display a repertoire of roars, boos and hisses.

An ostrich lays about 15 eggs a month, an egg every two days. The laying of eggs is during the dry months of the year that is February and June.They have giant eggs that are the largest of any living bird at 15cm long and weighing as much as two dozen chicken eggs.  The   male ostrich prepares the ground, digs a hole about one metre wide or its single stride and one foot deep, enough to fit its body during brooding. It pours a layer of lake sand on which the eggs are laid.

The sand generates the necessary warmth for the eggs to hatch. All of the herd’s hens place their eggs in the dominant hen’s 3m-wide nest, though her own are given the prominent Centre place; each female can determine her own eggs amongst others. The eggs are incubated by the dominant female by day and by the male by night, using the coloration of the two sexes to escape detection of the nest, as the drab female blends in with the sand, while the black male is nearly undetectable in the dark.

When the eggs hatch after 35 to 45 days incubation, the male usually defends the hatchlings and teaches them to feed, both the males and females cooperate in rearing chicks. The chicks have no feathers on the belly and on the legs.  For the first six days, ostrich chicks do not feed on anything but on the yolk in their internal body system. Thereafter, the chicks begin to feed on sand grains.

The bird’s defensive behavior is by lying low at the approach of trouble and pressing their long necks to the ground in an attempt to become less visible. Their plumage blends well with sandy soil and, from a distance, gives the appearance that they have buried their heads in the sand.

Ostriches can go without drinking for several days, using metabolic water and moisture in ingested roots, seeds and insects, but they enjoy liquid water and frequently take baths where it is available.

Take time to visit the fascinating birds on your tour to the Northern part of Uganda or Kidepo National Park. Get to learn more about their origin, breeding tales and much more however make sure you are not near the eggs for they can be so protective and aggressive.

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