The touching story of the lonely female ostrich that captured Londolozi hearts all those years ago has reached a whole new high. We are incredibly delighted to announce (and yes I am aware that I sound like a proud mother) that the pair of ostriches have as of today six new chicks!!
Rangers arrived at the nest this morning to check up on the situation and where one normally finds the male ostrich committedly incubating the eggs, there were six wobbly youngsters instead. Still wet from their hatching and fumbling about on unstable legs, we believe that the chicks hatched only this morning. When I was at the nest the mother of the youngsters hadn’t returned for the change over yet but by the time James Tyrrell arrived later in the morning she had taken over the clutch care responsibilities. This would have been the very first time she had seen her chicks. The chicks are streaky in appearance (what is referred to as hedgehog down) with spiky black-tipped buff down and a line of black spots down their neck. Their camouflage is so perfect for the surroundings that should the young hatchlings lay unmoving and flattened to the ground, you wouldn’t even notice them as they blend into the scenery and soil around them. According to Roberts Birds of Southern Africa, the youngsters won’t be able to walk well for the first 24 hours but will already be leaving the nest in just three days time when they’re able to run up to 10m. One thing I found fascinating is that the chicks actually lack an egg tooth to cut themselves from the egg and thus break out by means of muscular spasms. This process can take as long as 9 hours, which is an astonishing struggle for such a young animal.
For those of you unfamiliar with this bigger story, it really is a remarkable one of hope. Three years ago the female arrived quite unexpectedly from the Kruger (we assume) and despite some near misses from lions, leopards and hyenas has managed to survived her harsh environment. It seemed that as no other ostriches appeared on the horizon and she became more lonely, she turned her attention to Londolozi game viewing vehicles for company. This all changed just a few months ago as two male ostriches made a surprise appearance on the property. After much chasing and antics, she eventually chose a mate and before we knew it, Londolozi’s first-ever clutch of eggs had been produced. Just a few short days ago the story took a turn for the worse when the nest was raided by hyenas and five of the eggs were eaten. Although seven remained untouched and were returned to the nest, we weren’t sure if the eggs had been damaged and if any youngsters would survive. We now know however that as of this morning, the ‘lonely’ female ostrich everyone has been so worried about for years now has a family of eight.
Until now this pair of birds has managed to beat the odds but it seems their work may have only just begun. With the number of cats, eagles, jackals, snakes and other potential predators roaming through Londolozi these chicks will remain vulnerable for a long while. Adults care for the young for up to 9 months and then the young form compact groups that wander off on their own. To protect youngsters, one of the adults may perform a distraction display. This happens when an adult runs quickly away from the group, collapses with a swaying neck and flops its wings in a broken-wing display. When predators gets closer to the adult, they jump up and run away, giving the youngsters the chance to scamper for safety. The young are apparently also very susceptible to sudden changes in temperature, particularly cold and wet weather and problems with internal parasites.
As is always the case we can only surmise what the future of this brood will be but can promise that we will keep you updated on this unlikely story of love and survival.