OSTRICH

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OSTRICH (struthio). No bird is, perhaps, more celebrated than the ostrich, not only from the beauty and value of its plumage, but also from its great size and peculiar habits. It is generically distinguished by its straight and depressed bill, and the shortness of its wings, which are unfitted for flight. The African or true ostrich (S. camelus) is from seven to nine feet high from the top of its head to the ground ; most of this, however, is made up by the great length of its neck. Its head is small, and both it and the neck are destitute of feathers, having only a few scattered hahu The feathers on the body are blackish those of the wings and tail are white, sometimes marked with black. The wings are furnished with spurs. The thighs are naked, and the legs hard and scaly. The ostrich inhabits the burning and sandy deserts of Africa in large flocks. This bird appears to have been known from the earliest ages : it is constantly alluded to in the Old Testament, and was one of the forbidden articles of food to the Jews. Fashion has set too high a value on the feathers of the ostrich to admit of his remaining undisturbed, even in the desolate regions which he inhabits. Anciently, also, it appears that this bird was sought for to grace the table of the epicure ; thus that prince of gourmands, Heliogabalus, caused the brains of 600 of them to be served up at one meal. The hunting of the ostrich is exceedingly laborious, as he is far swifter than the fleetest horse. The mode adopted by the Arabians and Moors is to pursue the bird as long as possible, when the chase is taken up by another on a fresh horse, till the bird is worn down. This is the more readily done, as the ostrich, instead of pursuing a straight course, runs in a circuitous direction. It is also said that they are taken by a hunter covering himself with one of their skins, and then approaching them sufficiently near to surprise them. They are tamed, and are bred in some parts of Africa. The female lays from ten to twelve eggs in a hole in the sand ; and, although she does not incubate them continually, no bird has a stronger affection for its offspring, or watches its nest with more assiduity. Contrary to the general opinion, she always broods over her eggs at night, only leaving them during the hottest part of the day. If the eggs be touched by any one during the absence of the birds, they immediately discover it, on their return, by the smell, and not only desist from laying any more in that place, but likewise destroy all tliat may have been deposited. Barrow states that in the interior of the eggs there are frequently found small, ovalshaped pebbles, of a pale yellow color, and exceedingly hard. The eggs are said to be a great delicacy, and prepared for the table in various ways. The ostrich, in a tame state, swallows, with the greatest voracity, rags, leather, iron or stone. Doctor Shaw says, "I saw one at Oran that swallowed, without any seeming uneasiness or inconvenience, several leaden bullets* as they were thrown upon the floor, scorching hot from the mould."The American ostricn (S. rhea) Is very closely allied to the preceding, and may be considered its representative in the western continent. This bird inhabits various parts of South America to the southward of the equator, but is principally found on the great plains in Buenos Ayres and the adjoining states. It is not as large as the African ostrich, and is of a uniform gray color, except on the back, which has a brown tint. The back and rump are furnished with long feathers, which are not as rich and full as those of the true ostrich, and are but little esteemed as articles of dress or ornament, being principally used for brushes for driving away flies, or cleaning articles from dust. This bird possesses the same remarkable speed as the former species, and its running is accompanied with a singular motion of its wings. It raises one, which it holds for some time stretched out, then depresses it, and erects the other. It is taken by chasing it on horseback, and catching it with the lasso, or by means of balls connected by a strip of hide, and thrown in such a way as to entangle its legs. It discovers the same indiscriminate voracity as the ostrich, and the size of the articles it can swallow is astonishing: one that was in Philadelphia a short time since could swallow a whole onion, the diameter of which was apparently larger than that of its own neck. The distension produced by this root, as it descended to the stomach, rould be readily traced. The natural food of this bird is fruit, grain, and, in fact, most vegetable substances. The individual just alluded to fed eagerly on grass or clover.