Every now and then, I like to reflect on one single aspect of God’s vast creation. In honor of Earth Day on April 23, I am focusing on the ostrich today. An article in the September 2020 National Geographic piqued my curiosity. It’s titled “Nobody’s Fool” and it was written by Richard Conniff.

The striking profile of an ostrich. (photo by George Desipris)

The ostrich is the world’s largest bird. It is flightless. The male, with black and white feathers, stands 9 feet tall and can weigh over 300 pounds. The female, with brown feathers, is slightly smaller. Two outstanding features of ostriches are their knees and their eyes. Ostriches have double knee caps that may help them run so fast. They can run over 40 miles per hour and can sustain that speed for about ten miles. They have the largest eyes of any land animal—about the size of a billiard ball. Their keen vision coupled with their long neck (17 cervical vertebrae to our 7) enable them to spot trouble two miles away on the open plain.

And ostriches are always on the lookout for trouble. They have to be. As Conniff puts it, “Ostriches are basically oversize chickens in areas populated by hungry lions, leopards, hyenas, and cheetahs.” But don’t feel too sorry for ostriches. Beside their speed, they possess a powerful kick that can break the bones of predators. And on the biggest of their two toes, they have a claw that can disembowel a lion. Contrary to rumor, ostriches do NOT (I repeat) do NOT bury their heads in the sand. Perhaps this myth arose when someone spotted an ostrich standing and bent over while turning the eggs in her nest—and they thought she was hiding her head.

A male in pursuit of a lady ostrich. His red neck and red legs tell the world he is “in the mood for love.” (photo by Anthony Trivet)

Unlike some birds that mate for life, ostriches (both males and females) are pretty promiscuous, mating with multiple partners in the same breeding season. If you’d ask them how they can justify such loose behavior, they would probably say, “It increases the diversity of our gene pool.”

Ostriches lay big eggs: about 6 inches in diameter and weighing about 3 pounds. In case you’d like to try one for breakfast, remember that one ostrich egg is equivalent to two dozen chicken eggs! Since ostrich nests are out in the open on the ground, they are hard to defend. Researchers estimate only about 10% of the nests are successful. When the chicks hatch after 42 days, they too are easy prey. In short, there’s considerable luck involved in raising chicks to adulthood.

Yet, ostriches are good parents. They have been seen fending off hyenas and standing guard between their chicks and a pack of baboons. In rain, both parents sit on the ground, spread their wings, and their chicks take shelter beneath them.

A group of lady ostriches probably being raised on a farm. (Pixabay)

The wild ostrich population has declined drastically in the past 200 years due largely to the loss of habitat. Most of the surviving ostriches are on farms or game preserves. Life expectancy in the wild is 30-40 years, but in captivity, they can live to about 70 years. Some ostriches are still being raised for their feathers, meat (it’s supposed to be very lean), and leather.

Let me conclude with two fascinating facts you can use to impress your friends. First, if a friend asks you, “What’s the difference between ostriches and emus?” here’s your answer: Ostriches are from Africa, whereas emus (like the one in the Liberty Mutual Insurance ads) are native to Australia. Emus are smaller (about 6 feet tall, 130 pounds) and run about 30 miles per hour. Then to really impress your friends, add this: “Rheas are the South American cousin of emus and ostriches. They’re the smallest of the big flightless birds at 4 feet, and they also have three toes.”

The big toe of the ostrich is a formidable weapon. (photo by Magna Ehlers)

Second fascinating fact: when the Titanic sank in 1912, the most precious cargo aboard was NOT diamonds or gold—but 12 cases of ostrich feathers valued at $2.3 million in today’s money. Why were they so valuable? Because those were the days when ladies of fashion all over the world wanted ostrich feathers on their hats!

St. Bonaventure, writing in the 13th Century, said this: to work up to loving God, begin with the simplest things of creation. “The Creator’s supreme power, wisdom, and benevolence shine forth through all created things.” Yes, even through the ostrich!

For reflection:

Did anything stand out for you in this reflection?

How do you see God’s “power, wisdom, and benevolence” shining forth through the ostrich?

Is there any other particular animal that reflects something of the Creator to you? If so, what and why?

PS: This week you still cannot respond to my blog! Hopefully the problem will be fixed by next week. I’m eager to hear from you once again—and so are my readers!

I want to thank our IT people for our province’s new website—and for helping me to to navigate the intricacies of my blog again!


I chose a nature song in honor of Earth Day. This song, by Kate Simmonds and Mark Edwards, is called “The Creation Song.” It’s a lovely blend of music with stunning visuals of creation, visuals that “demand” full screen viewing. My prayer for each of you: May you hear our Creator God speak the words of this song to you—yesterday…today…and forever…

Thank you for reading “Sunflower Seeds.”

2 Comments

  1. Charlene on April 26, 2021 at 7:02 pm

    Thank you, Sister Melanie.
    I tried to share with you when my Pastor Eamon Tobin passed away back in January, but I believe you were unable to receive comments. You might have been aware of Fr. E. Tobin, Ascension Parish, Melbourne, FL., as he was very impressed with
    your Sunflower Seeds and blog. Several times a paragraph of one of your articles were complimented in his weekly bulletin articles. I believe Fr. Tobin and you shared a similar gift of recognizing, sharing and teaching others with your writings. He will be surely missed. I am glad for the many highlights of your learning that you write which enlightens and brightens my week. Blessings to you

  2. Charlene on April 26, 2021 at 7:03 pm

    See above.

Leave a Comment