The Ostrich is a flightless, walking bird that nests on the ground. The main characteristics of the Ostrich include a flat sternum, a small brain, heavy legs with two short toes and few feathers on the head, neck or legs. They are the largest living birds, reaching a height of 8 feet and weighing up to 400 pounds. On the plains of Africa, their height makes them and indicator species for all the animals with which they graze. When they run, everybody runs. Ostriches run at a steady speed of 25 mph, and up to 50 mph for short distances.
Their small heads are perched upon highly mobile necks. Ostrich eyes are enormous and the gape of the beak is very wide. Their thighs and legs are extremely strong. A female protecting her chicks was observed being able to kick two juvenile lions to death.
The jet black plumage of the male set off by long, white outer flight feathers is a striking contrast to the inconspicuous brownish color of the female. Ostriches are gregarious and polygamous, each male possessing 3 to 5 females which he guards jealously and doesn't permit other males to approach. Ostrich chicks are precocial, but only about 15% survive through their first year.
At one time there were 9 Ostrich species. Today, only one remains, represented by 5 sub-species. The red necked or Masai Ostrich is the best known. The Somali sub-species and southern sub-species have blue-gray necks and thighs. Ostriches are confined solely to Africa, and are farmed for their meat and heavy plumage.