The Ostrich


The ostrich is sometimes called the "camel-bird," because it is so very
large, because it can go a long time without water, and because it lives
in desert and sandy places, as the camel does. It is often taller than
the tallest man you ever saw, and it neck alone is more than a yard in

Each of the wings is a yard long when the feathers are spread out; but
although the wings are so large, the bird cannot fly at all. One reason
of this is, because it is so very heavy, and another is that its wings
are not of the right sort for flying. They are made of what we call
ostrich-plumes, and if you have ever noticed these beautiful feathers,
you will remember that they are very different from others that you have
seen. If you take a quill from the wing of a goose, you will find that
the parts of the feather lie close together, so that you cannot very
easily separate them; but in an ostrich plume they are all loose and
open, and would not support the bird at all in flying. The feathers are
generally either white or black. There are none under the wings, or on
the sides of the body, and only a few small ones on the lower part of
the neck. The upper part of the neck, as well as the head, is covered
with hair.

Its feet are curious, and different from those of most birds. They are
somewhat like the foot of the camel, having a soft pad or cushion
underneath, and only two toes. The largest toe is about seven inches
long, and has a broad claw at the end; the other is about four inches
long, and has no claw.

Although this bird cannot fly, it can run faster than the swiftest
horse. If it would keep on in a straight line no animal could overtake
it; but it is sometimes so foolish as to run around in a circle, and
then, after a long chase, it may perhaps be caught. A traveller
speaking of the ostrich, says, "She sets off at a hard gallop; but she
afterwards spreads her wings as if to catch the wind, and goes so
rapidly that she seems not to touch the ground." This explains what is
meant by the verse, "When she lifteth up herself on high she scorneth
the horse and his rider."

The ostrich has but little to eat in the desert places where it lives:
only some coarse grass, or rough, thorny plants, with a kind of snail
which is sometimes found upon them; and perhaps it sometimes eats
lizards and serpents.

The voice of the ostrich is very mournful, especially when heard at
night in a lonely desert. It is said to be like the crying of a hoarse
child. It is on this account that the prophet Micah says, "I will make
a mourning like the ostrich."

In the 39th chapter of Job we read, "Gavest thou wings and feathers unto
the ostrich ? which leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them in
the dust, and forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild
beast may break them. She is hardened against her young ones as though
they were not hers." See how well this agrees with the accounts given
by travellers. They say that the ostrich is frightened by the least
noise, and runs away from her nest, leaving the eggs or young ones
without any protection; and very often she does not return for a long
time, perhaps not until the young birds have died of hunger. The eggs
are cream-colored, and large enough to hold about a quart of water. The
shell is very hard, and as smooth as ivory. It is often made into a
drinking-cup, with a rim of gold or silver.