Since Ancient Roman times, people have been spreading the rumour that ostriches get so panicked when faced with danger that they react by stuffing their heads in the dirt. This idea is so prominent throughout history, that these large birds have become synonymous with people who refuse to face their problems head on. However, in this day and age, the rumour that ostriches stick their heads in the sand has been proven to be a myth.
So where did this misconception come from?
Scientists have a few ideas. The first thing to consider is that ostriches have small heads relative to the size of their body. So, when they bring their heads close to the ground to nibble at the grass, they may look like they are disappearing entirely. Also, ostriches don’t build nests for their eggs. Instead, they dig holes in the sand to keep their eggs. While the eggs are incubating, both male and female ostriches will take turns using their beaks to rotate them, thus possibly creating the illusion that they are burying their heads in the sand.
What does an ostrich do when it senses a threat?
Nowadays, we know that ostriches are far more sensible then we’ve given them credit for. When they do sense danger, their first response is to remove themselves from the situation—at a quick clip. An ostrich can sprint at up to 70 kilometres an hour on their long, powerful legs. Instead of using their wings for flight, they are used as "air rudders" which helps them run—allowing them to zigzag, brake and turn quickly as they sprint away.
In fact, ostriches are one of the fastest animals in the world when it comes to sprinting. Are you thinking about a cheetah right now? Cheetahs are super fast, but they might not be able to run for as long. Cheetahs can tire quickly, while ostriches have been known to sprint at top speed for up to half an hour.
Ostriches are no Chickens
Hardly the cowardly head-burier, when running is not an option, these birds are not afraid to take a stand against an attacker. Ostriches can kick with a force of 140 kilograms per square centimetre—a force capable of killing a lion with a single blow.
Ostriches are big, fierce and not afraid to take a stand against predators—a far cry from the unjust reputation for being cowardly and burying their heads in the sand. If you ask me, we should all aspire to be so ostrichly!
Did you know? Ostriches also lay the largest eggs of any bird, have the largest eyes of all land animals and, unlike all other living birds, they secrete urine and feces separately. Want to learn even more strange ostrich facts? Come visit Body Worlds: Animal Inside Out, on now until March 28, 2016!