The ostrich is the largest living species of bird in the world; it is also the fastest bird, running at speeds of up to 43 mph. Ostriches are native to the savannahs of Africa and are widespread across the continent, living in nomadic groups of 5 to 50 birds.
They have a distinctive appearance with very long necks and legs and a body covered with grey or black feathers. Ostriches also lay the biggest eggs of any bird throughout the world, around 20 times the size of a chicken egg. Ostrich eggs are a glossy cream colour with a thick shell and are marked by distinctive small pits all over them.
Here at Flamingo Land our female ostriches are currently laying eggs in their enclosure. In the wild the incubation of ostrich eggs is very curious. A female ostrich lays her fertilised eggs in a single communal nest which is a simple pit around 3m wide created by the male.
The dominant female of the group then lays her eggs first and may discard eggs laid in the nest by other weaker females. Each female can distinguish her own eggs from others. This generally leaves around 20 eggs ready to be incubated. The eggs are incubated by the females during the day and by the males during the night. This is due to the difference in colour of the male and female feathers. Females’ feathers are greyish-brown and drab in colour and therefore blend in with their sandy habitat and males’ feathers are black making them virtually undetectable at night. This helps camouflage nests from potential predators leading to greater survival.
From time to time our ostriches do lay their eggs in unsuitable places, such as on concrete! This can cause the eggs to crack, meaning that they will never hatch. However, if that happens the eggs don’t go to waste! They can be blown to prevent them from rotting and used for both enrichment and education purposes.
Ostrich eggs can be used during education sessions and school visits to teach children about adaptation and animal behaviour. We also use them for enrichment within the lemur enclosure; hiding food in them to stimulate natural foraging behaviour throughout our lemur troop. So far this year the ostriches have been sensible about where they lay their eggs, so here’s hoping for some baby ostriches this summer!