The Camel Bird

In the wilderness surrounding Palestine, in Arabia and in the arid wilds of Africa is found the largest of all winged creatures—a proud and regal strutting bird.  Visualize a feathered creature weighing more than 200 pounds and towering from 6 to 9 feet in height.  Its plumes were worn by the royalty of ancient Babylon and Egypt and adorned the court of King Solomon.

In ancient and medieval times the ostrich was commonly designated as the “camel bird” because of its many similarities to the camel.  It has a long neck (no feathers, but down) with the same distinctive curvature, an arched-humped back, long legs and a camel-like gait, long eyelashes, feet adapted to its environment with its two toes and spongy pads enabling it to withstand the heat of desert sand and removing the shock of the heavy thumping stride and finally, the ability to go long distances and for several days without water.

The body of the male is a lustrous black accentuated by white plumes on the tail and wings, while the female is a dull grey or brownish white.  A very simple nest is made, formed by a large circular impression in the sand.  From 10 to 15 eggs are deposited in the concave indentation and are incubated by the grayish-brown female during the day and the coal-black male at night—an excellent example of protective coloration and instinct in this generally considered stupid creature.  After 6 to 8 weeks, the young emerge—well developed, but ugly and awkward.  They are capable of helping themselves soon after they hatch and commence eating herbs, insects and fruit—their natural diet.  Ostriches, as other birds, have a voracious appetite.

Would you think it possible that three persons could share one egg at lunch and have such abundance that they would be unable to finish it?  This is true in the case of an ostrich egg.  It requires several hours to boil an egg and a hammer is necessary to crack the shell.  The average egg weighs three pounds and is the equivalent of two dozen chicken eggs; it is the size of a man’s derby.  Natives consider them a delicacy and use the shells for cups and bowls.  Not only are the eggs edible, but also the bird itself is considered an unusual treat.  Needless to say, one bird would be ample for a banquet!  According to the ceremonial laws, the Israelites were forbidden to partake of the ostrich.  “And these ye shall have in abomination among birds; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination; the eagle….and the ostrich.”  (Lev. 11:16)

Is it true that the ostrich buries its head in the sand?  It can be readily understood how this misconception arose.  When the ostrich is resting or hedging, it huddles on the ground and stretches its neck flat out on the earth.  As the head and neck are approximately the same color as the sand, one sees only the body; consequently, the story arose that this bird buries its head in the sand.  Only by careful observation with the aid of powerful binoculars is the head and neck discernible from a distance as it lies camouflaged on the sand.  Furthermore, according to Crandall of the Bronx Zoo, the beak is too weak to dig a hole for the head to hide in.

Twice the prophet Isaiah mentions the ostrich and in both references it is designated as a wilderness inhabitant.

The “camel bird” is truly one of the most amazing creatures for it resembles a camel, it can outrun a horse, roars like a lion and kicks harder than a mule.  A rare combination, indeed!  How amazing is the rapidity of this bird.  The average stride covers 12 feet, but when going full speed, some have been known to include 25 feet in one step!  Fifty miles an hour is not unusual, while one of the fastest horses on record ran only 45 miles per hour.

Frequently, the ostriches of the wild are found in herds of zebra and large antelope for which they have an affinity, which substantiates the fact that they must be among the fastest running creatures of the wild.  Although their wings are useless for flying, they serve as balancers in running, aiding the bird in maintaining its equilibrium.

Only the natives or a well trained naturalist is able to distinguish the sound emitted by the ostrich from the roar of a lion.  One naturalist lay hidden in his blind an entire day in fear and trembling as he imagined himself to be in the vicinity of lions and refrained from his study and photography of wild life.  In the evening, when natives returned for him, he related his experience and they explained he had been misled by ostriches.  The prophet Micah also refers to the mournful sound of the ostrich.

The ostrich has been known to kill men, horses and zebras by its powerful kick.  Unlike the mule, it cannot kick backward, only forward.

From 1890 to 1915, ostrich feathers were very popular adornments on women’s hats and dresses.  In 1913, the number of ostriches on African farms exceeded three-fourths of a million.  Although the farms have decreased in number, they still exist in Florida, California and Africa and do a thriving business (over $2,000,000 wholesale in 1939).  In captivity, the average bird lives to be 15 to 25 years old, although some have reached the “fourscore mark”.

For years the farming has been augmented by the natives who hunt them on horses with bow and spear.  They also collect the eggs and sell them to the farms where they are hatched.  The tail and wing feathers are regularly clipped by caretakers.


A huge egg

A mammoth hen

A camel bird;

A swift runner

A roaring fowl

A plume producer.