The largest of birds, and a sort of connecting link between fowls and quadrupeds, termed by the Persians, Arabs, and by Greeks, the "camel-bird." It is a native of the dry and torrid regions of Africa and western Asia. The gray ostrich is seven feet high and its neck three feet long; it weighs nearly eighty pounds, and is strong enough to carry two men. The other species, with glossy black wings and white tail, is sometimes ten feet high. The beautiful plumes so highly valued are found on the wings, about twenty on each, those of the tail being usually broken and worn. There are no feathers on the thighs, or under the wings; and the neck is but scantily clothed with thin whitish hairs. The weight of the body and the size and structure of the wings show that the animal is formed for running rather than flying.
The ostrich is described in Job 39:13-18; and in various places where our translation calls it the "owl," Job 30:29 Jeremiah 50:39; or "daughter of the owl," Isaiah 13:21 34:13 43:20 Micah 1:8. In these and other passages it figures as a bird of the desert. Shy and timorous, it is occasionally driven by hunger to visit and ravage cultivated fields; but is usually found only in the heart of the desert, in troops, or small groups, or mingling familiarly with the herds of wild asses, gnus, and quaggas. Its food is often scarce and poor, plants of the desert "withered before they are grown up;" also snails, insects, and various reptiles; for it has a voracious and indiscrimination appetite, swallowing the vilest and the hardest substances. Job speaks particularly of the speed of the ostrich," She scorneth the horse and his rider." So Xenophon, the biographer of Cyrus, says of the ostriches of Arabia, that none could overtake them, the baffled horsemen soon returning from the chase; and the writer of a voyage to Senegal says, "The ostrich sets off at a hard gallop; but after being excited a little, she expands her wings as if to catch the wind, and abandons herself to a speed so great, that she seems not to touch the ground. I am persuaded she would leave far behind the swiftest English courser."
She scoops out for herself a circular nest in the sand, and lays a large number of eggs; some of which are placed without the nest, as though intended for the nourishment of the young brood. The mother bird, with the help of the sun in the tropics, and of her mate in the cool nights, performs the process of incubation; but her timidity is such that she flies from her nest at the approach of danger, and as Dr. Shaw remarks, "forsakes her eggs or her young ones, to which, perhaps, she never returns; or if she does, it may be too late either to restore life to the one, or to preserve the lives of the others. Agreeably to this account, the Arabs meet sometimes with whole nests of these eggs undisturbed; some of them are sweet and good, others are addled and corrupted. They often meet with a few of the little ones no bigger than well-grown pullets, half starved, straggling and moaning about, like so many distressed orphans for their mother. In this manner the ostrich may be said to be ‘hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers; her labor,’ in hatching and attending them so far, ‘being vain, without fear,’ or the least concern of what becomes of them afterwards. This want of affection is also recorded in Lamentations 4:3, ‘The daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness;’ that is, apparently by deserting her own children, and receiving others in return."
When the ostrich is provoked, she sometimes makes a fierce, angry, and hissing noise, with her throat inflated, and her mouth open; at other times she has a moaning and plaintive cry; and in the night the male repels prowling enemies by a short roar which is sometimes taken for that of a lion, Micah 1:8.
These dictionary topics are from American Tract Society Bible Dictionary published in 1859. Public Domain, copy freely.
Rand, W. W. "Entry for 'OSTRICH'". "American Tract Society Bible Dictionary".