Weighing up to 140kg (320lb), these are truly massive birds and are multiple world record breakers. In fact, an ostrich can complete a marathon of 26-miles in around just 35 to 45-minutes! Ostriches are the largest birds in the world and the fastest animal on two legs, but how long do ostriches live?
Ostriches have long lifespans to match their other gargantuan credentials. Wild ostriches live for around 30 to 45 years in the wild, but some reportedly live into their 50s. In captivity, ostriches have lived for over 60 years. The oldest was allegedly 62 years and 7 months old.
The long lifespan of ostriches broadly confirms that older animals tend to live longer lives, within certain limits. Ostriches are large, powerful birds with few natural threats, and if they survive their first year, they have an excellent chance of living a long life.
Despite living long lives, as few as 10% of nests survive the lengthy 9-week period of egg-laying and incubation. And then, only around 15% of chicks survive until their first birthday. Some 70% of all chicks die in the first 90 days of hatching. So, while adult ostriches live long lives, the challenge is making it to adulthood!
Read on to learn more about the ostrich’s lifespan and more related facts!
In the wild, ostriches live for between 30 and 45 years
Ostriches are capable of living long lives of some 45 years. In fact, ostriches live longer than most birds, bar parrots and albatrosses. In captivity, the very oldest ostriches have reportedly lived for over 50 years.
On average, ostriches live for around 30 to 45 years, but some reportedly live for longer than 50 years. Considering how large ostriches are, this is not so surprising, but amongst birds, this puts ostriches right up there with the longest-lived birds on the planet.
For an ostrich to live a long life, its first year is critical. Unfortunately, few ostrich nests even survive long enough to see the chicks hatch - some studies found that as few as 10% of all nests succeed. While ostriches are fiercely defensive of their nests, there are many predators to account for in their native habitat, including cheetahs, lions, wild dogs, leopards, jackals and hyenas.
Eagles, jackals, warthogs, lions and other predators also target the eggs. Moreover, ostriches sometimes attack each other’s nests, and some nests may become neglected, abandoned or lost to the sand and dirt.
Once hatched, as many as 75% of ostriches die in their first few months, and only around 15% survive until their first birthday.
If ostriches survive until adulthood - and that’s a big if - then they have an excellent chance of living for their entire 30 to 45-year lifespan.
Ostriches are amongst the longest living birds in the world
While estimates vary for how long ostriches live in captivity, they can certainly live for 50 years or longer. Some sources claim that ostriches can live for over 70 years even, but with little evidence, this is tough to verify.
Most ostriches die as chicks, either from disease, predation or starvation. Ostrich life is turbulent for the first few months, and since food is often naturally scarce in their arid habitat, many die from starvation. Predation is also common amongst younger ostriches - while a fully grown ostrich is a worthy adversary even for a lion, a younger juvenile is a much easier target.
Ostriches are also afflicted by many diseases. Some common diseases that affect ostriches include avian influenza, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, Newcastle disease, salmonella, campylobacter jejuni and chlamydia psittaci. This is the case both when raised in captivity, on farms, or in the wild.
Female ostriches lay large clutches of 6 to 12 eggs or more to combat high mortality rates. Rather than building their own nests, most ostriches will lay in one communal nest, which is incubated by the alpha male.
Unfortunately, young ostriches are far from safe once hatched, and their large mixed broods often merge or become split up, resulting in the loss of chicks.
The majority of ostriches die as chicks
Ostriches are large birds with slow, patient lifecycles. Ostrich eggs are incubated for around 35 to 45 days, which is considerably shorter than most other flightless birds (ratites), such as the emu (55 days), cassowary (50 days) and kiwi (80 days).
Once hatched, the young chicks can walk within just hours. Since ostriches can’t fly, they don’t fledge as such, but become slowly independent from their parents (typically just the male) after around two months. Over the next year, the juveniles will join a flock or herd until they reach sexual maturity by the age of 3 to 5.
Ostriches that survive until sexual maturity have an excellent chance of living for around 40 years.
Despite the size and power of ostriches, they still live in the African savanna, which contains some of the highest concentrations of formidable predators anywhere in the world.
Some of ostriches' main threats come in the form of lions, leopards, jackals, wild dogs, cheetahs, spotted hyenas and Nile crocodiles. Jackals, warthogs, mongoose, Egyptian vultures, and various birds of prey target ostrich eggs, chicks, and young juveniles.
There is no doubt that an ostrich is tough to kill, especially when it’s part of a herd or flock. One ostrich kick can kill a lion instantly. Most predators are observed to avoid ostriches unless they’re injured, diseased, old, young or separated from others.
Female Common Ostrich showing off plumage to attract a male, Kruger National Park
There is little reliable data on the oldest ostrich, though it’s commonly cited as 62 years and 7 months old.
This seems possible given that ostriches can live for some 45 years in the wild. Ostriches are right up there with other longest-lived birds, including albatrosses and parrots.
Ostriches can live for several days without a substantial meal. Ostriches can’t afford to be fussy with their diet - they’ll eat practically anything they can find on the desert brush, including some very tough and harsh plants and grasses.
If ostriches can’t find food, they’ll travel for hours at a time until they locate abundant feeding grounds, often tracking rainfalls as they move from place to place.
To help them deal with their diet, ostriches have extremely tough stomachs, which feature some 14m of large intestine and one of the largest gizzards of any bird. Their gizzard is a strong muscle designed to grind down tough-to-digest foods. An ostrich gizzard may contain some 1.5kg of stones (called gastroliths) that help them grind hard, dry foods.
In captivity, ostriches are fed at least 1.3kg to 1.8kg (3 to 4lbs) of food every day.
Female Ostrich with her young chicks
Ostriches live in primarily arid or semi-arid African climates such as the savannah. There, temperatures rarely dip below 15C, even at night, though lows of some 5C have been recorded.
Ostriches are kept in captivity at much lower temperatures, and they are quite hardy, but they’ll typically have the luxury of a heated enclosure at night.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently classifies Common ostriches as a species of Least Concern, whereas Somali ostriches are classified as Threatened.
Ostriches in North Africa have become exceptionally rare and are sometimes considered Critically Endangered.
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