When you hear the word "bird," common species ranging from cardinals and blue jays to finches and sparrows probably come to mind first. However, a handful of flightless birds that lack wings for flying also make their homes in habitats around the globe. While perhaps the most widely known flightless bird is the peacock—a species famous for its enormous fan of feathers that come in a variety of vivid colors tinted in blues and greens—a lesser-known birds without the ability to fly is the ostrich. Whether you have recently witness one of these unique birds in the wild or you are studying for an upcoming biology exam and want to ace your test, one question you might be wondering is, "Why can't ostriches fly?"
What is an ostrich?
Of all the birds that exist in every corn of the globe, the ostrich is the largest. These creatures stand between 7 and 9 feet tall and weigh anywhere from 220 to 350 pounds. Also significant in size are the eyes of an ostrich, which are typically 2 inches from one of side to the other. The most notable feature of the ostrich is its long, thin neck, which can reach four feet in length and connects to a large, oval-shaped body comprised of black or brown feathers, as well as a pair of featherless legs.
Ostriches are native to the savannas of Africa and get most of the water they consume in order to survive by eating the various plants that dot the desert landscape. Although the leaves, roots and seeds of plants make up the majority of their diet, ostriches are classified as omnivorous creature and also snack on small lizards and insects when conditions are too harsh for them to receive adequate nutrition from plants. Rather than traveling alone or in pairs, ostriches frequently traverse the deserts of Africa in herds consisting of about one dozen birds. The average lifespan of an ostrich is 35 years.
Why can't ostriches fly?
Despite the fact that they are indeed considered a type of bird, ostriches lack the ability to leave the ground for any length of time due to their disproportionately small wings. According to an article on NBCNews.com, studies that delved into the history of ancient birds like the ostrich have determined such species were once capable of flight but lost that ability over time. These studies suggest that prehistoric birds were forced to fly since staying on the ground put them in the path of potential predators—like dinosaurs.
When dinosaurs became extinct and no longer roamed the surface of the Earth, some of these birds—which are considered to be the ancestors of the modern-day ostrich—were able to forage for food that grew from the ground without having to quickly swoop back into the safety of the skies to avoid potential danger. In the thousands of years that followed, subsequent generations of these centuries-old birds slowly lost their ability to fly because they no longer had a need for it. Today, ostriches use their powerful legs to run as fast as 43 miles per hour and cover an area of over 15 feet in length with a solitary stride, according to National Geographic.