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species description The North African or red-necked ostrich is one of four surviving sub-species of ostrich. A fifth, the Arabian ostrich, became extinct in the mid-twentieth century. The ostrich is flightless and the only bird with two toes. Its small wings are used mostly for communication but also assist steering when running fast. The ostrich uses powerful legs to reach speeds of 70 km/h (43 mph). They attain a height of more than 2.7 m tall (9 ft) and can weigh 135 kg (300 lbs). Ostriches are dimorphic. Females have powder grey plumage with a few white feathers on the wings. The males are adorned with black feathers on body and wings and bear a white neck collar. Skin colour varies from pink to bright red during the breeding season.
species biology

The North African ostrich is a bird of dry savannas, grasslands and semi-desert, including the larger Saharan mountain ranges in former times, where large sandy wadis provided ideal feeding and breeding sites.

Forms small mixed herds of up to a dozen individuals, although larger groupings do occur in areas of favourable grazing or during seasonal movements to new pasture.

species habitat

An omnivorous feeder, ostriches prefer grasses, herbs and leaves of shrubs and trees. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat almost anything they find interesting, including small tortoises, lizards, and insects. They rarely drink in the wild, satisfying their thirst by consuming green vegetation.

Breeding season in the Sahara usually begins during the wet season (August-September) continuing through the cooler winter months. During this time, males can be heard “booming”, a deep rhythmic call that can be heard over several kilometers and is used to proclaim territory.

The dominant male will mate with a number of hens but it is the major hen, with which the male is most concerned. Courting ostriches display one of the most beautiful dances in the animal kingdom. These graceful birds whirl, flutter, strut, and grunt in a celebration dedicated to finding the perfect mate. After mating the male brings the female to a shallow depression about three meters across that he has scratched in the sand. Here she will lay eight or more eggs. Minor hens will also lay eggs in the nest.

The male and female share the task of incubation. Tradition has it the female takes the day shift as her drab colour is better suited to blend with the surroundings and the black feathers of the male make perfect camouflage for the night.

Hatching is synchronized even though they may have been laid as much as two weeks apart. Eggs usually weighs from 1400-1600g. On average the eggs hatch after 42 days of incubation. Growing quickly, the chicks will reach adult height in only one year but it takes another six months to reach the adult weight. Ostriches become sexually mature between two and four years old and can live up to 40 in the wild.

species distribution Formerly right across the greater Sahara from Morocco and Mauritania in the west to the Red Sea in the east. Now restricted to few fragmented populations mostly in the central part of its range (Cameroun, Chad, CAR). A tiny wild population of a few birds survives in the Ferlo region of Senegal. Currently absent in former stronghold in the Aïr Mountains of central Niger.
species conservation This unique Sahelo-Saharan bird has been devastated across its native range by hunting and increased human presence and habitat encroachment. The fat and bone marrow of ostriches is highly prized in traditional medicine for its supposed properties in the treatment of arthritis and rheumatism.
species protection Categorized globally as of Least Concern in the IUCN Red Data List. Probably true for the species at large but fails to recognize the fact the North African ostrich is extinct or virtually so in many countries. CITES lists ostriches from North Africa in Appendix I.
species priorities
  1. Stringent protection of existing wild populations
  2. Captive-breeding and multiplication of North African race of the ostrich
  3. Reintroduction into secure protected areas


species biology
species habitat
species distribution
species conservation
species protection
species priorities
species references

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