The ostrich is the largest bird on the planet. The heaviest too. However, there is a major difference between the Ostrich and many other birds. This is the fact that the ostrich cannot fly. They simply are not capable of it. Let’s take a little look at the ostrich flying facts in some more depth, shall we?
Can an Ostrich Fly?
Ostrich cannot fly. In fact, the fact that an Ostrich cannot fly (as well as other flightless birds) is something that baffled scientists for decades. This can be traced back to the dinosaurs.
As you may well know, the modern bird is very closely related to dinosaurs.
Contrary to popular belief, during the extinction event that killed the dinosaurs, not all life on the planet was wiped out.
Smaller animals were able to thrive, as well as some dinosaurs (e.g. the predecessor to crocodiles and alligators), as well as various fish life.
With the dinosaurs no longer kicking around, many of the birds decided to expand their wings, so to speak.
They ended up dwelling on the ground rather than up in the trees.
This is where the evolution started to kick in. The birds that stayed around on the ground started to get larger and larger.
Eventually, they lose the ability to fly. It was essentially naturally bred out of them, as the only birds mating with other birds were those that spent their time on the ground.
Obviously, this is somewhat of an oversimplification of what happened, but still.
The reason why this baffled scientists is because, for a long while, they believed that Ostriches descended from other flightless birds.
That there was a flightless bird in their lineage at some point. However, we now know that not to be true.
Ostriches descended from birds that could fly, but they just ended up evolving in a slightly different way.
Why Can’t The Ostrich Fly?
Ostriches will never be able to fly because it would be impossible for them to evolve in that way now.
You can’t just evolve traits back in that have been bred out, after all.
Some would say that the ostrich has forgotten how to fly, but really can.
This is something that may have been true millions of years ago, but not now. Ostriches simply are not capable of flying.
You would think that the reason ostriches can’t fly is due to their larger size. This isn’t true.
If the ostrich had evolved in a slightly different way, it would be able to lift that larger body off of the ground. However, now it can’t.
The problem for the ostrich is that it has smaller wing bones. The bones are simply not powerful enough for the bird to get enough lift.
As the ostrich evolved to become larger, the wing bones didn’t grow with them.
This makes sense. After all, the ostrich wasn’t flying anyway, and thus it wasn’t a trait that really evolved with them.
It didn’t matter if ostriches with strong wing bones were mating with those with weaker wing bones. There was no natural selection here. This meant that the bones didn’t get bigger.
The second reason why ostriches cannot fly is due to something known as the keel.
You can think of this as an extension to the ostriches’ breastbone. In birds that can fly, the muscles required for flight attach to this keel.
While the ostrich does have a keel (some flightless birds do not), it is far too small for its size. This means that while their muscles still attach to the heel, they are not able to achieve enough power in the muscle to lift them off of the ground.
It is actually worth noting that ostriches likely also do not fly due to the amount of energy that it takes. As they got larger, it would actually be a downside to have the ability to fly.
You might be interested to check the difference between an ostrich and an emu.
This is because flight consumes a huge amount of energy in comparison to living on the ground.
Therefore, the birds that could fly would have slowly started to die off because they were not able to get the food that they needed to thrive. This left the birds that couldn’t fly.
They would not have needed to eat quite so much, even due to all the running that they do, which left them free to mate with other birds that didn’t really fly too.
Eventually, the flight trait would have left them.
How Do Ostrich Get Around?
Luckily for the ostrich, it doesn’t actually need the ability to fly to get around. It is one of the fastest birds on the planet. It can hit a whopping 60mph faster than most vehicles.
They have a sustained speed of a little over half of this, which is incredibly fast for a bird.
Due to the larger size of the ostrich, they are never really going to be a target for predators either. This means that they do not really have a need to escape all that often.
In fact, the ostrich has just two main predators where it lives, and it can easily outrun or fight off both of them. For example, lions love to tuck into a good ostrich, but they stand absolutely no chance of being able to catch one.
The wings of the ostrich are actually used when they run. if the ostrich didn’t have wings, it wouldn’t be able to run in a straight line.
It would be veering all over the place and it wouldn’t be able to travel in a straight line. The wings provide them with much-needed balance.
Ostrich Flying Facts – Conclusion
Ostriches cannot fly. Even now, we are still learning the reasons as to why they cannot fly. Of course, they can run incredibly fast.
Far faster than many birds can fly. In fact you will never find an ostrich that can fly now. They are simply not built for it.
Their wings are always going to be used for raw speed and balance when they are running through their habitat.