The Story Of Wild Animals:
Story Of The Llama
Story Of The Carpincho
Story Of The Ant-eater
Story Of The Ostrich
Story Of The Lizard
Story Of The Kangaroo
Story Of The Hedgehog.
Story Of The Wild Goat
Story Of The Musquash
Story Of The Wart-hog
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Story Of The Ostrich
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Ostrich farming has become an important industry in several parts of Africa and Asia, and has been introduced recently into the United States and is successfully carried on in Arizona and California. I have frequently had opportunities to study the habits of this bird at these farms. None of the characteristics of the ostrich is as unique as the manner of hiding from a foe adopted by the foolish bird. As it lives chiefly in desert-like districts where the soil is sandy, it experiences little difficulty in burying its head, and this subterfuge is always adopted when flight is not possible. I have often seen a recently captured ostrich watch the approach of a man, and after seeking to escape, it simply dropped to its knees and dug its head into the sand until its eyes were covered. This attitude it would maintain for half an hour, when, looking up and the man being out of sight, it would resume its gambols or feeding. But when flight is possible, it escapes danger by running. Since it cannot run in a straight line, a man on horseback can readily secure it by intercepting its course, instead of riding after it. Its speed is greater than that of the fastest horse.
I have seen a number of large ostriches, one of which measured 4 feet to inches in height at the back, and had a total length of 4 feet 3 inches. Ordinary examples reach only about 3 feet 8 inches in height.
The digestion of an ostrich is proverbial, and while in their general diet these birds will eat all kinds of food, they are likewise in the habit of swallowing stones, sand, bones, or even pieces of metal, to aid in digestion. In captivity this habit probably becomes abnormally developed; and I know of instances where even the constitution of an ostrich could not resist the effects of some of the substances swallowed. Among the ordinary food of the ostrich are comprised many small animals, birds, snakes, lizards and insects, as well as grass, leaves, fruits, berries and seeds.
I knew of one that swallowed some broken bits of glass and died in great agony. It was a female. So devoted was the male that he pined, and died of grief.
The ostrich is chiefly valuable for its plumage, and the Arabians have reduced the chase of it to a kind of science. They hunt it on horseback, and begin their pursuit by a gentle gallop; for, should they at the outset use the least rashness, the matchless speed of the game would immediately carry it out of their sight, and in a very short time beyond their reach. But when they proceed gradually, it makes no particular effort to escape. It does not go in a direct line, but runs either in a large circle or first to one side and then to the other; this its pursuers take advantage of, and, by rushing directly onward, save much ground. In a few days, at most, the strength of the animal is exhausted, and it then either turns on the hunters and fights with the fury of despair, or hides its head, and tamely receives its fate.
I can attest to the development of the maternal instinct, which many naturalists deny. I once fell in with a troop of about twelve young ostriches which were not much larger than guinea-fowls. I was amused to see the mother endeavor to lead us away, exactly like a wild duck, spreading out and drooping her wings, and throwing herself down on the ground before us as if wounded, while the cock bird cunningly led the brood away in an opposite direction.
The ostrich egg will weigh on the average about three pounds, being equal to two dozen ordinary fowl's eggs; yet one of them is not thought too much for a single man to eat at a meal, and in one instance two men finished five in the course of an afternoon. The approved method of dressing ostrich eggs is to set the egg upright on the fire, break a round hole at the top, squeeze a forked stick into the aperture, leaving the stem protruding, and then to twist the stick rapidly between the hands so as to beat up the contents of the egg while it is being cooked. Within each egg there are generally some little smooth bean-shaped stones, which are composed of the same substance that forms the shell.
In South America the place of the ostriches is taken by an allied group of birds known as rheas, or, as they are often termed, American ostriches. The wings are proportionately longer, and are covered with long, slender plumes. The best known, and at the same time the most abundant, of the three species by which the single genus is now represented, is the common rhea, inhabiting the pampas of Argentina and Patagonia. This species is far inferior in size to the ostrich, but it is the largest of the three. It is generally seen in pairs, though it sometimes associates together in flocks of twenty or thirty in number. Like all the members of this group, it is swift-footed and wary, but possesses so little presence of mind that it be-comes confused when threatened with danger, runs aimlessly first in one direction, and then in another, thus giving time for the hunter to come up and shoot it, or bring it to the ground with his "bolas" a terrible weapon, consisting of a cord with a heavy ball at each end, which is flung at the bird and winds its coils around its neck and legs, so as to entangle it and bring it to the ground.
Although now confined to Africa, Syria, Arabia and Mesopotamia and becoming every year scarcer in the three last-mentioned countries there is a probability that ostriches formerly existed within the historic period, in parts of Central Asia and possibly in Baluchistan, since there are several allusions to birds which can scarcely be anything else than ostriches in various ancient writings. Quite apart, however, from this, the evidence of its fossilized re-mains shows that an extinct species of ostrich, nearly allied to the existing kind, once inhabited North-Western India, and a petrified egg from the Province of Cherson in Russia, points to the former existence of these birds in that country. Originally it is probable that the ostrich ranged in suitable localities from Senegambia in the west, through Southern Morocco', Algeria and Egypt, to Arabia, Syria and Mesopotamia in the east; while in the other direction it extended from Algeria through Central and Eastern Africa.