Ostriches are the largest birds on the planet. These enormous birds became flightless around 65 million years ago and now roam the continent of Africa.
While ostriches can’t fly, they’re highly mobile and can run at speeds of over 45mph for hours at a time. So, we know that ostriches can’t fly, but can ostriches swim?!
Ostriches can swim, but it’s not common behavior. However, ostriches are sometimes spotted cooling off in rivers, pools, and lakes on exceptionally hot days. They’ve also been spotted swimming in the ocean at Yzerfontein in South Africa.
There’s no doubt that ostriches are terrestrial birds, but they can certainly swim. With their massive, rounded bodies and long periscope-like necks, you could argue that ostriches are well-made for swimming! They have no problem keeping their heads above water and can push themselves along with their strong legs.
Read on to learn more about how these colossal birds swim and why!
An Ostrich cooling off in a watering hole
Ostriches are terrestrial birds that live the vast majority of their lives on dry land. In fact, ostriches live in some of the driest habitats across the African continent, and many won’t come into contact with water daily.
If and when ostriches come into contact with water, they certainly can swim. Ostriches swim to cool off, relax in the water, and even evade predators.
When ostriches decide to have a dip in the water, they’re most likely to swim in still or calm inland water, such as lakes and streams.
While these large birds are probably quite buoyant and can propel themselves with their large legs, they’re not evolved for swimming. With that said, ostriches have been spotted swimming in the Atlantic Ocean near Yzerfontein in South Africa.
In one incident, a small fishing boat helped herd two female ostriches back to shore from the Atlantic - they’d swum a fair way from shore and were thought to have escaped from a nearby farm.
A pair of ostriches bathing in Namibia, Africa
Ostriches swim much the same as a waterbird, such as a swan or a goose. The difference is, that while ostriches have large, buoyant bodies, they lack webbed feet. So, while they’re capable of swimming in reasonably strong currents, they’re still better suited to the land!
While swimming, ostriches use their buoyant bodies to stay afloat and their powerful legs to propel themselves. In addition, their long necks enable them to keep their head above water without much issue.
Ostriches are super-fast on dry land, reaching spring speeds of over 43 mph (70 km/h), but how fast can they swim?
Well, these Olympic long-distance runners aren’t quite as adept on the water as they are on dry land, but they can probably swim pretty well.
There’s no real detailed or convincing data or information on how fast ostriches can swim. However, judging by the two ostriches swimming in the Atlantic ocean, ostriches are probably pretty good at swimming.
Despite ostriches not frequently swimming, they aren't scared of the water at all!
Ostriches can usually begin to swim as juveniles or even as smaller chicks if they had to (e.g., to escape from a predator). However, it’s essential to stress that ostriches are not waterbirds and don’t possess the same swimming abilities as ducks, geese, swans, etc.
Ostriches are very large with rounded, rotund bodies and are probably quite buoyant. They have long legs that can propel them through the water, and their long necks enable them to keep their heads above water with little issue.
If there was more water across inland Africa, ostriches might swim more. But, given that they often occupy arid or semi-arid regions with few large bodies of water, they don’t need to swim to survive. But, of course, there are exceptions, and ostriches have been observed swimming in rivers and lakes across Africa.
These huge birds are probably strong swimmers when they need to be, but their powerful legs still work better on dry land!
A family of ostriches walking through the water
Ostriches regularly bathe and clean themselves in dust baths. When taking a dust bath, an ostrich will stretch its feathers across the floor, rubbing any small insects or particles out of its feathers.
Ostriches clean themselves thoroughly - they even rub their necks and beaks in the dust!
In captivity, ostriches are regularly observed bathing in both dust and water. Ostriches at Cincinnati Zoo regularly cool off in a small pool in their enclosure.
While ostriches are not waterbirds, they’re definitely not scared of the water either. These large, buoyant birds are good swimmers and can easily keep their heads above water, courtesy of their long necks.
Ostrich taking a dust bath in the Kalahari desert
Ostriches do occupy some coastal areas and beaches. Coastal populations of ostriches have been observed cooling off in shallow tidal water. On one occasion, two female ostriches were found a fair way from the coastline by a small fishing boat.
The boat escorted the two ostriches back to shore, where they hopped onto the beach and dried off their feathers before continuing on their merry way!
It’s thought these ostriches escaped from a nearby farm. While observations of ostriches swimming at sea are rare, they’re clearly pretty strong swimmers!
An ostrich near the sea at Cape Point, South Africa
Ostriches are terrestrial birds that haven’t evolved for swimming. In fact, ostriches have distinctly evolved for walking and running, which they excel at. For example, an ostrich can run a marathon in less than 45-minutes!
Despite being most proficient at running, ostriches are decent swimmers. While swimming ostriches are a rare sight, they can reportedly swim well against reasonably strong currents. It makes sense on paper - ostriches are large, buoyant birds with strong legs and long necks. They probably float easily, and their elongated neck acts like a periscope.
Ostriches usually bathe in water rather than swim. They’re often observed relaxing in shallow pools, both in the wild and in captivity. Most ostriches live in arid regions across Africa and don’t encounter large bodies of water regularly. If they did, then maybe ostriches would be caught swimming more often.
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