Sunday, December 02, 2012

About the ostrich . . .

Female Ostrich
We saw a bit more of a love story than we anticipated as we crossed the bottom of the Ngorongoro Crater.

A small herd of ostriches crossed the road in front of our jeeps, but two females appeared to be fighting over a very cute male in full mating regalia.

But first, notice her fluffed out plumage and her thick, very strong legs. These birds can weigh between 150 to 300 pounds and can run up to 40 mph. Normally, they won't attack humans; they're vegetarian. But just one of her kicks could disembowel or kill someone who cornered her.

Male Ostrich
Wikipedia notes that normally ostriches live alone or in pairs, but during mating season, these large birds tend to gather into groups of 5 to 50, typically with other animals that graze, especially zebras. I still cannot quite get over seeing these graceful yet clumsy birds casually strolling among a herd of zebras.

The male's brilliant pink neck and legs contrast sharply with his dark feathers. When he is ready to mate, he performs a sort of a dance with his large wings to attract a female.

Later in the day, we saw such a dance on the far crest of a hill. He danced and drew closer. She hesitated, finally bowing her head in submission. Though the actual mating took just a minute, we felt we were seeing something very private, but we can't anthropomorphize nature. For afterwards, he shook himself (as did she), and they each casually wandered off in different directions.

Before Africa, I would have connected ostriches to the very large ostrich egg and that old story that ostriches bury their heads in sand. They do eat sand and/or gravel to help them digest, and they do lie down on the ground to hide from predators, stretching their necks and heads flat on the ground. From a distance, all we might see is a funny hill that blends into the tall grassses.

They cannot fly, but I would hate to discover an ostrich nest and then see the mother bearing down on me at 40 mph, flapping its wings. Best to leave that adventure for someone else. Leave the nest be.

To the Victor . . .

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