Ostriches are probably the best-known species in a flightless group known as the ratites. You probably know these superlative avians as the tallest and heaviest birds in the world. You might even know that they are the fastest-running birds too, but do you know where Ostriches live?
Ostriches are endemic to Africa, which means they live nowhere else in the world (apart from where they have been introduced). Their wide distribution stretches from the southern tip to the edge of the Sahara desert in the north of this immense continent. Ostriches are birds of dry, open habitats such as semi-deserts, open savanna, and low scrub.
These flightless birds are not reliant on daily drinking water, but their lack of flight also limits their movements, especially where large rivers, mountains, and fences occur. Nevertheless, Ostriches can be highly nomadic and will travel long distances to find good foraging grounds.
There are two recognized species of Ostrich, both of which are endemic to Africa. One subspecies existed on the Arabian Peninsula of Asia until as recently as the 1960s, although they are sadly extinct there now.
This article covers the distribution and habitats of the African Ostrich. Read on to learn where these immense birds live and where you might be able to see them.
Ostriches are only native to Africa, and favor open, dry habitats
Ostriches are native to Africa. These huge flightless birds have a wide distribution, from the southern coastline of Africa in the Cape of South Africa to the South of the Sahara Desert in North Africa. There is a large break in their distribution, however, since Ostriches do not occur in the densely vegetated central and West African countries.
The Common Ostrich (Struthio camelus) is the more widespread of the two known species. It has been split into four subspecies, each of which has a different range. Continue reading to learn where wild Ostriches live:
The South African Ostrich is characterized by its gray neck and the lack of a white ring of feathers on the neck. This southern sub-species of the Common Ostrich occurs in the following countries:
Male and female South African Ostriches, or Cape Ostriches, Cape Point, South Africa
The Masai Ostrich has pink legs, a pink neck, and a prominent white ring around its neck. This East African subspecies occurs in the following countries:
The critically endangered northern subspecies has a very wide distribution but has been hunted to extinction across most of its range. These birds look similar to the Masai Ostrich but have a broader neckband and an unfeathered head. This subspecies occurs in the following countries:
North Africa Ostrich
This extinct subspecies had a historical distribution that included several countries on the Arabian Peninsula.
The Somali Ostrich is recognized as a full species. They differ from the Masai and North African Ostriches by having a deep grey neck and legs. These vulnerable birds occur in the northeast of the continent in the following countries:
Ostriches are birds of open habitats. These birds are perfectly adapted to very dry environments and are not dependent on drinking water each day for survival. They prefer grasslands, open savanna, low scrub, and deserts.
They generally avoid tall, dense vegetation because these areas don’t contain their usual food and the threat of being ambushed by predators is higher. Open habitats also make it easier for Ostriches to defend their eggs and babies from smaller carnivores.
A typical desert habitat for Ostriches
Ostriches can be very common in suitable habitats in protected areas. They are the largest birds in the world, and their dark plumage stands out clearly in their open habitats, making them a pretty easy bird to spot.
They are also common domestic animals and are farmed extensively in some regions for their meat, eggs, feathers, and leather.
Wild Ostriches have become very rare outside of game reserves. Their populations have become highly fragmented, and the northern subspecies of the Common Ostrich is now listed as critically endangered.
Fortunately, reintroduction programs have been put into place for various reserves and protected areas.
Ostriches will remain in the same area throughout the year in suitable habitats. These large, dinosaur-like birds can be nomadic, however, especially in areas that have limited resources or are affected by droughts. Ostriches are flightless birds, so their movements are limited by geographical features such as powerful rivers, dense vegetation, and mountains, as well as artificial boundaries like fences.
A male Ostrich in Beaufort West, Western Cape, South Africa
Ostriches are widespread on the African continent. They are found in areas with suitable, open habitats and drier climates. These birds occur primarily in Southern, Eastern, And Northern Africa. Ostriches avoid most of Central and Western Africa due to the dense woodlands and forests that occur there. They are also absent from the Sahara Desert which covers much of North Africa.
Ostriches are not native to Australia but are farmed there in some areas. Escaped or released birds do occur in very low numbers in the South Australian Outback. These feral birds are not breeding well and are not expected to survive as a viable population, however.
Common Ostrich foraging for food in Namibia, South Africa
Ostriches are most common in open plains and relatively level areas that are dominated by low-growing plants like grasses and low shrubs. They have been eradicated from much of their former range by hunters and farmers, although they still occur in larger wilderness areas and are protected in many conservation areas on the African continent.
Three Ostriches on the open plains of Etosha National Park, Namibia
The best places to see wild, free-roaming Ostriches are in one of the many great nature reserves or national parks on the African continent. They can be found in most suitable reserves which contain the dry, open habitats that these birds prefer.
Visit the following reserves to see wild Ostriches in their natural habitat:
The Oudtshoorn district of South Africa is a hub of Ostrich farming and tourism, but you don’t need to travel across the world to see these incredible birds.
A little closer to home, Ostriches can be found in many zoos across America. They are even ranched in some parts of the USA, although they have lost popularity in the last few decades.
Common Ostriches on a dune in the arid Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park straddling South Africa and Botswana
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