Ugandan Birds: The Ostrich

Ostrich spotted on a game drive in kidepo valley national park

Ostrich (Struthio camelus) are huge flightless birds with small a head and wings and massive legs and two large forward pointing toes are endemic to Africa. This world’s largest bird is a savanna resident and in Uganda you can see it in Kidepo National Park and the far northeastern part of the country.

There are basically two races of the common ostrich, the nominate and the massaicus. The later is more widespread than the former. Ostriches walk at an average of 4km/hour! But if there is a warning sign of predators threatening it or its eggs this birds can sprint at a terrific speed of 60 km/hour. 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 are generally silent but during mating season, Ostriches display a repertoire of roars, booms and hisses. The male bird is known for its booming call which you can sometimes mistake it for a lion’s roar! This sound can be heard over 1 km away, so if you are in Kidepo and you hear this sound, don’t mistake it for a distant lion’s roar.

Ostriches have a complex breeding system. The major and the minor birds can lay eggs in the same nest; usually one major and 5-6 minor laying an average of 25 eggs in the same nest. The major hen incubates during the day while the Cock takes its turn during the night. The chicks usually hatch after 6 weeks and leave the nest after 4 days. The chicks then join other young ostriches to form crèches that can have more than 100 young birds.

The major predator to the Ostrich is The tool-using Egyptian Vulture which preys on the Ostrich eggs. Each vulture can eat six or more eggs at a time. The vulture uses stones to break Ostrich eggs and because of this it is called “The tool-using Egyptian Vulture.” Other predators also use this tactic to break Ostrich eggs.

You can find the massaicus which is the most widespread in either singles or in small groups. They can also be in large flocks if seen in drier or wooded grassland. Therefore if you are in northern Uganda or in Kidepo take a chance to see these fascinating birds but make sure you are not near the eggs for it can chase you with a terrific speed.

Characteristics of The Ostrich

  • In 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.
  • It has a pink neck and legs.
  • If you come across one that is breeding the legs are usually brighter.
  • The nominate adult female is largely brown while the massaicus is grayish-brown.
  • Both races have dull pinkish-brown or brown legs.
  • The chicks have black heads and necks, mottled backs and stripped buff.
  • Ostriches mature at 3-4 years.