Are Ostriches Dangerous?

Tallest Animals: Ostrich
Harry Beugelink/

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley

Published: April 15, 2022

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Ostriches also referred to as Struthio Camelus, are mainly found in certain areas of Africa. Wearing the crown for the largest and heaviest birds in the world, they are characterized by their exceedingly powerful muscular legs and hoof-like shaped feet, large sizes, pretty small heads, and long two-toed legs.

Ostriches, possessing sharp talons, big brown beady eyes, slender legs, and long necks protruding from their round-shaped bodies, could be fascinating but pretty dangerous to encounter. Due to their intimidating stature and fearsome appearance, it is only natural for one to wonder if ostriches pose any threats to humans. Can these birds kill humans? Are they dangerous?

Journey with us on this article as we unravel more answers to these intriguing questions.  

Background on Ostriches

Types of Big Birds

A male ostrich, Struthio camelus, in courtship display at the Masai Mara Park in Kenya.

Owing to the ostrich’s enormous weight and gigantic nature, one would expect that it would top the list of popular flying birds. However, it is baffling to know that these large birds (ostriches) cannot fly. Notwithstanding, their inability to fly is not a disadvantage for them when fleeing from dangers and predators. As a fact, their speed makes them top-of-the-list runners and the fastest birds on land. Even though they are generally weighty, ostriches are excellent runners, able to run as fast as 42 mph.

There were about nine known species of these large flightless birds in ancient times, but sadly, only two are currently in existence, with the remaining seven extinct. Ostriches are mainly found in the wild in Africa, especially in savannas and the Sahel, where they predominantly breed and inhabit. They occupy a wide range of open arid and semi-arid habitats running from the north to the south of the equatorial forest zone.

Are Ostriches Dangerous?

Do Birds Pee

If cornered or threatened, ostriches could be quite dangerous.

Ostriches are seemingly gentle and shy land-dwelling birds. Notwithstanding, their attack on humans and other animals could be quite dangerous, especially when cornered, startled, or threatened. If cornered, an ostrich could fiercely deliver dangerous kicks, which are capable of killing lions and other large predators in a bid to defend itself.

Ostriches are extremely aggressive and mean during the breeding season and are more likely to attack (especially the mother ostrich, who protects her eggs and chicks at all cost). But frankly speaking, these birds are unpredictable and react differently on several occasions. When provoked or threatened, they can be vicious and downright mean. These land-dwelling birds have countlessly unleashed their vicious nature on the strongest predators in the wild.

Do Ostriches Attack Humans?

Like every other bird, ostriches live peacefully and do not interfere in humans’ businesses unless they feel threatened or cornered. Nevertheless, when they attack humans, they go all out by protecting themselves, their young, eggs, and territories. 

Several times, domesticated and wild ostriches have aggressively attacked humans with their unpredictable instinctual behaviors. Their major defense tactic is the forward and down kick motion powerful enough to slash predators’ limbs or lower abdomen. In fact, with their long sharp claws, a single strong foot blow could disembowel or instantly kill a human. However, one can sigh in relief knowing that these giant birds have no teeth to bite, so they are not in anyway venomous. Nevertheless, they can effortlessly deliver quick, vicious pecks.

Can an Ostrich be Domesticated?

Many years ago, ostriches were tame, and it is fascinating to know also that, at this time, no law forbids anyone from keeping them as pets in most states in the United States. However, due to their tenacious, unpredictable nature and large sizes, one must be careful when raising ostriches domestically. Those who keep them do so for only a short period of their lives.

Why Can’t Ostriches Fly?

ostrich with feathers out in desert area

Ostriches flat breast bones lack the keel that anchors the strong pectoral muscles responsible for flight.

A major distinguishing feature that separates birds from other land animals is their ability to fly. Unfortunately, ostriches and certain birds like the penguins, kiwi, and rhea do not possess the natural features primarily known to birds. And since their flat breast bones surprisingly lack the keel that anchors the strong pectoral muscles responsible for flight in other birds, they tend to leap on land surfaces all through their lives.

How to Survive Ostrich Attack

Since these birds are unpredictable, and it is quite impossible to outrun an ostrich, having one or two defense strategies is imperative. If you are stuck in a duel with an ostrich, the following tricks could be handy:

  • Remember that an ostrich’s most formidable weapon is its strong long legs. Try to keep a distance from the bird during an attack.
  • Attack its neck with a long weapon as it is one of its weakest body parts.
  • Take a calculative shot against its strong leg.
  • Attack its wings with a long weapon and escape in a zigzag fashion.

What happens when you don’t have any weapon to defend yourself against an ostrich attack?

  • When you are deprived of any weapon to defend yourself, the best thing to do when an ostrich charges you is to take cover. Do not run! If there are objects or dense vegetation around, head for them and take cover.
  • Duck behind covers that can conceal you.
  • Head for a nearby tree and climb as fast as your legs can carry you.
  • Play dead as an alternative, and protect your skull with both arms.

Fun Facts About Ostriches

Here are some interesting facts about ostriches:

Unlike the naked mole-rat, elephants, and other animals with poor hearing abilities, ostriches are endowed with strong hearing and acute eyesight, enabling them to detect threats far away. They possess large eyes—attached to their small heads—which are the largest of any land-dwelling vertebrate. Unfortunately, because of the absence of the ridge along the breast bone with which the flight muscles are attached, ostriches do not take to flight no matter how threatening the situation appears.  

In addition to their incredible features, ostriches also have a very keen sense inherently developed to detect predators from a distance. Their long legs also assist them to stand at a height very comfortable to view long distances without obstruction. Furthermore, they have a long lifespan. With an average life of 50 to 70 years, it is safe to conclude that these birds do not die in a hurry.

These large, intimidating, flightless birds are useful worldwide, specifically for meat, oils, medicinal purposes, and ornamentation. Their feathers are useful for decorations and dusters. Their skin could also be useful for leather products. In general, every part of an ostrich can be harvested for human and economic use.

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