Dear Bird Folks,
What is the true story with ostriches sticking their heads in the sand? Do they really do that or is that just a old wives’ tale? Are they really trying to hide or are they looking for something?
-A. Rose, Orleans
This one is easy. Ostriches don’t put their heads in the sand to hide, that would be silly. When ostriches stick their heads in the sand, they are looking for spare change. In fact, ostriches are so good at finding change that, in Africa, many retired men use ostriches at the beach instead of metal detectors. Ostriches are not only better at finding change than metal detectors, but they don’t need batteries or make those annoying beeping sounds.
Ostriches are huge, flightless birds of the open Africian savanna. They are by far the world’s largest birds, standing 8 feet high and weighing more than 300 pounds. That’s about 1,602 bluejays or 48,362 of the burliest ruby-throated hummingbirds.
Ostriches are also the world’s fastest running bird. They can reach speeds of 45 mph, putting them in the same league as the cheetah, the antelope and my neighbor’s Jack Russell terrier that won’t let me cut through his yard.
Another cool thing about ostriches are their feet, they only have two toes. One toe is small and mostly used for balance. The other toe is huge, more like a foot, with a 2-inch long claw on the end of it. With their massive legs and deadly claws, ostriches are capable of delivering kicks that can smash the skull of a would-be predator. Now that’s a pleasant thought.
With such a power, speed and height, ostriches have few natural enemies, except for lightning and low branches. Like most wild things, ostriches were doing quite well until humans got involved. Somehow, someone decided that we couldn’t live without an ostrich feather sticking out of our hats. Thousands of ostriches were killed so we could have this all important decoration.
Ostriches were well on their way to extinction when someone figured out that they could be raised on farms. Ostrich farms sprang up all over. The farms provide the world with ostrich parts and the wild birds were saved. However, I’m sure that the birds living on the farms aren’t too thrilled with this new arrangement.
Oh, by the way, I was kidding about ostriches putting their heads into the sand. The only things that I know of that put their heads in the sand are clams, and of course politicians. Ostriches live on the open savanna where there are few places to hide. When an ostrich wants to go undetected, it drops its head and long neck to the ground in hopes of fooling an enemy that it is a distant bush. It also must have fooled some delirious sun-stroked folks into thinking its head was totally buried.
Ostriches are pretty interesting birds, but the idea of sticking their heads in the sand is definitely a old wives’ tale. And while I’m on the subject of wives’ tales, you should know that you don’t get warts from toads, you don’t have to wait an hour after you eat before swimming, and dogs’ mouths are not clean. And I mean any dog’s mouth, especially my neighbor’s foul-mouth Jack Russell terrier.