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Summary Article: ostrich
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Large flightless bird. There is only one species, found in Africa. The male may be about 2.5 m/8 ft tall and weigh 135 kg/300 lb, and is the largest living bird. It has exceptionally strong legs and feet (two-toed) that enable it to run at high speed, and are also used in defence. It lives in family groups of one cock with several hens, each of which lays about 14 eggs. (Species Struthio camelus, order Struthioniformes.)

The adult male's body is covered with black feathers, the plumes of the wings and tail being white; females and young males have grey feathers. The bill is wide and flat, the small head has large eyes, and the long neck has a sparse covering of downy feathers. The male incubates the eggs at night, but the female may sit on them during the day. Their eggs are the smallest in relation to the adult's body size of any bird. Ostriches eat mainly plant material and they can survive for a long time without water.

They are bred in South Africa and elsewhere for leather and also for their tail feathers. The attraction of the ostrich's plumes led to their being domesticated and farmed on a commercial scale. Young birds were first enclosed in South Africa 1857. After 1870 greater attention was given to their domestication. The chief centre of feather industry was Oudtshoorn; at the peak period (about 1906–12) there were some 400,000 ostriches in this district.



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