Ostrich Head in the Sand—They're Just Like Us

It's a story that you were told in bed as a child (or at least we were). An urban legend, as famous as the chupacabra, Cow Tipping, or Paul is Dead, that keeps you up at night wondering. Why do ostriches bury their heads in the sand? And how is an ostrich just like any other New Yorker?

When frightened, ostriches instinctively bury their heads in the sand in the hopes that trouble will pass them by—or so the legend goes. In reality, ostriches don't bury their heads in the sand to avoid danger. Not only would they be unable to breathe, but when you think about it, they really have no reason to do so (unless they catch a passerby wearing non-Inkerman's). Ostriches have plenty of other defenses.

They stand around 9 feet tall and weigh in at a whopping 350 pounds. If threatened, they can deliver a kick powerful enough to kill a lion—or a downstairs neighbor who constantly blares Phish with that new base he saved up for. The legend stems from the fact that ostriches lays their eggs in the sand. The ostrich digs a massive hole measuring between 6 and 8 feet wide and 2 to 3 feet deep. A few times a day, the ostrich parents dip their heads below the ground to gently turn the eggs using their beaks. Think of it as picking your head into the subway terminal to see if it is oncoming. Is this self-defense? I don't think so.

This relatively brief head-duck—which lasts only as long as it takes the ostrich to inspect and arrange the eggs to its satisfaction—may have given rise to the head-burying myth.

Ostriches have the biggest eyes of any land mammal – almost 5cm across – and three sets of eyelids. The size of their eyes helps them to easily see predators like lions from a long distance. Think heading to a deep Brooklyn warehouse at 4am, and you will relate. 

As ostriches can’t fly, when threatened they’ll run, and can reach speeds up to about 70km/h (43mph), covering up to 5m in a single stride. They will stop nothing in their way—using that formidable kick to pulverize any passerby. Ever running late to a meeting in Midtown? Same.

Territorial fights between males for a harem of two to seven females usually last just minutes, but they can easily cause death because they slam their heads into their opponents. Think showing up the club with the lads, only to find yourself all starstruck.

Ostriches can go without drinking for several days, absorbing moisture from the food they eat, but they do enjoy water and will even bath in it if there is enough. Think pre-COVID, and substitute water for booze. 

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