Masai ostrich

Masai ostrich

Masai ostrich, East african ostrich


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Struthio camelus massaicus

The Masai ostrich (Struthio camelus massaicus ), also known as the East African ostrich is a red-necked subspecies variety of the common ostrich and is endemic to East Africa. It is one of the largest birds in the world, second only to its sister subspecies Struthio camelus camelus. Today it is hunted and farmed for eggs, meat, and feathers.


The feathers of the Masai ostrich lack barbs, which gives them a soft, downy appearance. Similar to other ostrich subspecies, they possess approximately 50–60 tail feathers, 16 primaries, 4 alular, and 20–23 secondary feathers. The wing and tail feathers have evolved to serve as decorative plumes for courtship display rather than flight.

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For males, the majority of the body is covered in black feathers. White feathers appear along the tips of the wings, tail, and form a small ring partway up the neck that separates the black body feathers from bare neck skin. The white tail feathers are often discolored from dirt and appear reddish-brown.

Females tend to be smaller than males and also possess bare skin on both the neck and legs, though their skin color appears more beige than pink. Adult females body feathers are a uniformly-distributed, monochromatic color scheme of brown.

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Wild Masai ostriches are located across Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Denser populations are often found in the semi-arid, open grassy plains of the African savanna. Despite this preference, they have been known to also inhabit desert, dense brush, and steep rocky mountain environments.

Masai ostrich habitat map
Masai ostrich habitat map

Habits and Lifestyle

Diet and Nutrition

Like other Struthio camelus subspecies, Masai ostriches are almost entirely herbivorous. Their diet consists mainly of grasses, bushes, herbs, succulents, and leaves. Occasionally they will consume flowers, fruits, seeds, and animal protein (e.g. lizards, insects, etc.), but to a lesser extant.

Mating Habits

Masai ostrich breeding season begins around May or June. During this time, the pink hue on male Masai ostriches neck and leg skin intensifies as a form of mating display. Mature males begin to establish territories that are about 2–3 km2 in area and aggressively defend their domain against other breeding males. They will also construct scrape nests in prior to the arrival of breeding females.

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In July, adult female ostriches begin establishing breeding zones that span around 13 km2. These breeding zones overlap with 5–7 male territories, in which males attempt to mate with any adult females that pass through his territory.

Similar to other ostrich subspecies, the Masai ostrich nests in groups and engages in crѐching behavior where a single (major) female incubates the eggs of several other (minor) females within a single nest. Only 1 out of 3 hens will become major a female, the remaining hens are considered minor females and will not incubate their own eggs. A nest is initiated when a single major female mates with a territorial male who has already prepared a nesting site and performed a complex mating display. After she lays the initial clutch, both her and the territorial male assume primary care of the eggs. The major female lays on average 2 eggs per day and will spend a subsequent 15–90 minutes incubating, then will periodically leave the nest unattended to allow minor females to copulate with the territorial male and lay eggs in the nest. The male will often spend more time incubating the nest than the major female. An upwards of 18 different minor females will lay eggs in a single major females nest, resulting in an excess of eggs. Since both male and female Masai ostriches are only able to incubate 20–21 eggs at a time, so the major female will eject excess eggs. A reproductive advantage observed in major females is that they are able to recognize their own eggs and will eject minor female eggs in favor of theirs as a necessary way to reduce nest overcrowding.

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Population number

Though Struthio camelus is listed as a species of “least concern” under the IUCN red list, wild ostrich populations are acknowledged to be in decline.


1. Masai ostrich Wikipedia article -

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