The resident ostrich has been spotted a little more in the south-west of the reserve recently and I have had the pleasure of spending some time with her. This has sparked a new fascination with the largest and heaviest of extant birds.
Recently, I saw an ostrich drinking. This may not seem too exciting but tracker Ray Mabilane, after 6 years in the bush, says he had never seen it happen until this day.
It left me quite stumped, as a guide, as to why we see it happen so seldom. The process was fascinating as the ostrich bent its long neck down and scooped up water with his beak, then brought his neck back up to transport the water down to the rest of the body.
Ostriches are the only bird species that do not exhale moisture-saturated air when they breathe. The long neck and the wide nasal passages that make this bird so peculiar-looking, are believed to be an instrumental part of the cooling of air being breathed out. This cooling reduces the amount of water vapour by up to 87%.
This in turn prevents the ostrich from dehydrating in the dry, hot, open areas that they usually inhabit. For some perspective, depending on the humidity level of the air where you live, as humans we lose about 300 to 500 millilitres of fluid a day just through breathing!
Another reason and one more obvious is that ostriches cannot fly, so getting between water sources takes more time than for other bird species. An ostrich’s long neck make drinking difficult and they become vulnerable when in the drinking position. Therefore, they must conserve water in their bodies and satisfy most of their water requirements through the food they eat. Research has shown that an ostrich’s main source of water is actually food but when heat stress is at a maximum and there is little of either available, ostriches have the ability to recover evaporative loss by using a metabolic water mechanism to counter the loss of water through urine, faeces, and respiratory evaporation.
Not only have we recently seen the rare sighting of an ostrich drinking but my guests and I have had the pleasure of viewing the courtship and mating of ostriches. The males have scarlet colouring on their beaks and skin and they chase each other around in competition for the females. Once dominance is acquired, males put on quite the display, whereby they raise their feathers and expand their wings, eventually going onto their knees – almost as if to propose – followed by the twisting and winding of their long necks. This is all done to try impress the major hen. Once the hen is impressed, she will allow the male to mate with her.
These are exciting times for the ostriches of Londolozi as a new ostrich nest was found by Ranger Alex Jordan and tracker Lucky Shabangu recently. Hopefully we will have some new chicks running around in the next 39-50 days.