When we visited Germany, we went to an ostrich farm. There are roughly 200 ostrich farms in Germany, about the same number as in the United States, even though the U.S. is much bigger than Germany. South Africa has the largest ostrich farming industry in the world — but there too there are just about 200 actively producing ostrich farms (out of about 360 registered ostrich farms). Still, South Africa produces nearly 65% of all the ostrich goods in the world.
Ostriches make an interesting study.
The ostrich is the largest bird in the world, standing 7 to 9 feet tall and weighing about 300 pounds. Naturally, it lays the biggest egg of any bird. The ostrich egg is equal to two dozen chicken eggs. Ostrich eggs are very hard and tough, like a plate.
Ostriches do not fly, even though they are birds. They are native to central and southern Africa, where they can run across the savanna at speeds up to 43 miles an hour. One step can take them 10 to 16 feet. An ostrich farm needs to have a lot of space to keep these birds healthy and happy.
Ostriches can be aggressive. They kick with their powerful legs. Each two-toed foot has a long, sharp claw, and it is possible for an ostrich to kill a person or another large animal with a kick.
Ostriches live in herds. They keep their eggs all together and take turns keeping them warm. Both males and females do this. The mother ostriches can recognize their own eggs by the surface pattern of the shell. They will move their own eggs into the middle of the pile of eggs. When another mama ostrich takes a turn, she will move her eggs into the best spot. This frequent movement helps the baby ostriches develop in their eggs.
Babies’ feathers are different from their parents. Ostriches don’t get their fancy plumes until they are adults.
Ostriches are cute and funny to look at. Many ostrich farms are open to tourists, and many zoos have ostriches to admire. Commercial ostrich farms, however, produce goods to sell.
Ostrich feathers have been part of fashion since the days of Ancient Egypt. They were used until the 29th century to decorate hats. They were the first important ostrich product. Nowadays, ostrich feathers are more likely to be used for feather dusters than for hats.
Ostriches also produce meat and leather, though the ostrich farmers told us that ostrich leather is less popular now than it used to be. It is a luxury material.
Science: an animal study
When we study animals, we like to include all these elements:
- the morphology, or shapes of the creatures
- their life cycles
- their habitats
- their relationships to humans
Have students fold a sheet of paper into quarters and label each of the quarters with one of these topics. Have them take notes in each quadrant from the books and online sources they explore.
Divide the class into four groups and assign each group one of the topics. Ask students to check their notes and see if they all agree on all the points. If there are uncertainties, have them do further research until they’re sure they have the correct information.
Each group can report to the rest of the class on the information they found.
Writing: Compare and Contrast
Picture books are of course wonderful for reading to young children. We also like them for writing classes with older students, though. Flora and the Ostrich is a fun choice for ostrich lessons, and a great introduction to compare and contrast essays.
This book includes some definite opposites, like “happy” and “sad,” as well as some pairs that are a little more conceptually complex.
The book shows Flora interacting with an ostrich, with some miscommunications but a happy ending.
Think of all the ways you can work with comparisons with ostriches!
- flightless birds vs. flying birds
- African birds vs. Australian birds like the emu
- aggressive ostriches vs. gentler emus
- very big birds (ostriches are the biggest) vs. very small birds
- tough eggs like the ostrich’s vs. fragile eggs like chickens’ eggs
- ostriches vs. dinosaurs
- the ostrich’s stride length vs. your students’ stride lengths
Challenge students to choose one compare/contrast topic involving ostriches and write an essay.