How Fast Can an Ostrich Run? (Top Speed & FAQs)

An ostrich running fast in the wild

When we think of fast runners, ostriches might not immediately come to mind. Yet, these large, flightless birds are renowned for their incredible swiftness and unique running style.

In this article, we’ll cover topics including the top speed of ostriches, the common factors contributing to their quickness, the evolutionary reasons behind their need for speed, and much more. Let’s get started!

How Fast Is an Ostrich?

Ostrich running across a dry savannah

On average, ostriches routinely run at 30 to 37 miles per hour, which translates to about 48.3 to 59.5 kilometers per hour. In urgent situations, though, they can accelerate up to 43 mph (69.2 km/h). This impressive speed ranks them among the world’s fastest-running animals.

As a matter of fact, a single step they take can cover 10 to 16 feet, easily spanning the length of many rooms. This long stride is key to their high-speed capabilities, allowing them to cover vast distances quickly.

Here is a video showing the incredible speed of ostriches in action:

Ostrich at fullspeed

How Do Ostriches Run So Fast?

Ostriches achieve their remarkable speed by increasing both their step length and frequency. Since they are among the many birds equipped with long legs, they can easily swing further with each stride.

A 2010 study highlights another key factor: these flightless birds have stretchy tendons. To be specific, these tendons store double the elastic energy per step compared to humans.

In other words, these springy tissues significantly reduce the muscular effort needed for running. As a result, ostriches can run at double the speed of humans while using only half the energy.

Fun Fact: Interestingly, emus also possess flexible tendons. Yet, they don’t match the speed of ostriches. This difference underscores the unique adaptations of ostriches that make them the swiftest birds on land.

Why Do Ostriches Need to Run Fast?

Ostrich sprinting past startled gazelles

Ostriches, being the largest and heaviest birds on the planet, need to run fast for several reasons. For quick reference, the following list reveals the most common ones:

  • Predator evasion: The primary reason ostriches run fast is to escape predators. In the wild, they face threats from lions, cheetahs, hunting dogs, crocodiles, and hyenas. Basically, their speed is their best defense.
  • Survival in open habitats: Ostriches inhabit vast, open spaces like savannas and deserts. These habitats offer little cover from environmental threats, making speed essential for survival. Their ability to run fast allows them to cover large areas quickly to avoid danger.
  • Foraging efficiency: For ostriches, nourishment sources can be scattered across large areas. Their speed enables them to travel long distances swiftly to find food. This efficiency is crucial, especially in harsh environments where food is scarce.
  • Territorial defense: Generally speaking, ostriches are classified as territorial birds. They use their speed to patrol and defend their territory against intruders. This ensures they maintain control over their space, which is vital for their mating and nesting activities.
  • Protecting offspring: Ostriches are naturally protective of their young. When a threat approaches their nest, they can quickly intervene, using their speed to chase away or distract intruders.
  • Mating displays: Surprisingly, speed also plays a role in ostrich mating rituals. Males often perform high-speed runs and other displays to attract females. After all, such exhibitions showcase their strength and vitality.
  • Heat regulation: Running fast aids in heat regulation. In hot environments, ostriches dissipate body heat more effectively while running, helping them maintain their body temperature.

As you can see, the incredible speed of ostriches is not just a fascinating trait but a vital aspect of their survival and daily life.

From evading predators to ensuring the safety of their offspring, their ability to run fast is integral to their existence in the wild.

Is an Ostrich the Fastest Running Bird?

Yes, ostriches are the fastest-running birds on land, and no other avian species can match their speed. Additionally, they hold the title of the fastest two-legged creatures on Earth.

Fun Fact: Ostriches aren’t naturally fast runners from birth. However, by the time they are just a month old, baby ostriches can already keep pace with their adult counterparts.

How Long Can an Ostrich Run?

Single ostrich running down a deserted road

Ostriches can sustain their running for about 10 to 45 minutes, showcasing their endurance.

Primarily, they have the ability to traverse long distances without the need to stop, which is a significant trait crucial for survival in their natural habitats.

During a visit to a wildlife reserve last year, I observed a group of ostriches. One particular ostrich caught my attention as it started running across the plain.

Using a stopwatch, I timed the ostrich’s run. Remarkably, it sustained its high speed for over 30 minutes without showing signs of fatigue. This was a practical demonstration of their incredible endurance.

No wonder they can keep up their running for lengths of time measured in miles rather than minutes back in their native Africa.

How Far Can an Ostrich Run?

With their excellent speed, ostriches can cover impressive distances. At their typical pace of 30 mph (48.3 km/h), ostriches could theoretically run a 26-mile marathon in about 40 minutes.

This trait means that in their typical habitats, these towering birds can easily cross vast areas in search of food, water, or safety.

Fun Fact: Aside from their running capabilities, ostriches also have superior vision. They can see up to three miles away, aiding them in spotting predators or resources from great spans while on the move.

How Fast Can an Ostrich Run With a Rider?

Men riding ostriches in a race on a dirt track

In the past, when ostriches were ridden, these trips typically lasted only 15 to 30 seconds. So, you can expect that these birds can only achieve short bursts of speed with a rider.

Plus, such rides were limited to individuals weighing no more than 130 pounds (60 kilograms).

It is important to note that despite their speed and endurance, ostriches are not built to carry humans.

Their physical structure is optimized for running, not bearing additional weight on their backs. Unfortunately, this practice can cause them stress and potential harm.

Can an Ostrich Run on Water?

Ostriches cannot run on water. Instead, they swim and wade in water bodies. This behavior is often seen when they need to cool off or relax. Interestingly, they also use water as a means to hide from predators.

Watch this brief video to observe an ostrich leisurely lounging in a small pond:

Ostrich Goes Swimming at the Cincinnati Zoo

Can Ostriches Fly?

Ostrich running side view

Contrary to what some people might think, ostriches cannot fly. One key reason for their inability to do so is their small wings and the absence of a well-developed keel bone.

Essentially, the keel bone is necessary for flying, as it anchors the strong flight muscles of avians. So, without it, an ostrich cannot take off.

Moreover, ostriches are extremely heavy birds, with their weight ranging between 198 and 287 pounds. This weight further hinders any possibility of flight.

Frequently Asked Questions

Ostriches running in golden light

Do Ostriches Run Faster Than Humans?

Ostriches are significantly faster sprinters compared to humans. Their powerful legs, large strides, and elastic tendons give them a substantial speed advantage.

Basically, this makes them one of the fastest land animals on two legs.

Do Ostriches Run Faster Than Horses?

Ostriches and horses typically run at similar velocities, ranging from 30 to 37 miles per hour. However, it should be noted that there is a significant difference in their top speeds.

While ostriches can run up to 43 mph, racing horses have the edge, capable of reaching up to 70 mph (112.7 km/h). Additionally, horses can carry humans and maintain speed, which is a feat ostriches can’t achieve.

Can Ostriches Outrun Cheetah?

Ostriches are fast, but they can’t outrun a cheetah, which reaches speeds of around 75 mph (120.7 km/h). Primarily, cheetahs hold the record for land speed among animals.

However, bear in mind that cheetahs are limited to short sprints due to high energy expenditure in their joints. Unlike ostriches, they lack springy tendons, making sustained speed difficult.

Are Ostriches Faster Than Usain Bolt?

In a hypothetical race against Olympic sprinters, ostriches would emerge victorious. Usain Bolt’s record of roughly 28 mph in the 100-meter dash pales in comparison to an ostrich’s top speed of 43 mph.

On the whole, ostriches are not only fascinating but also record-breaking runners. Do you have any thoughts, opinions, or questions about these incredible birds? Feel free to share them in the comments below!

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