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Namibia’s bird of the year 2013

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For the first time in the history of Namibian Ornithology there was chosen a Bird of the Year. Earlier this year this campaign was started by BirdsConTour (Bird Conservation and Tourism) and the Common Ostrich was chosen. It’s Latin name Struthio camelus would literally mean “camel-sparrow” – because it is a bird with a long neck like a camel. These campaigns are done worldwide to point out threatened species or the threating of its habitat.

This flightless powerful bird once was common in whole Africa up to the Middle East. Today there are only residual populations existing – especially in the Western, Eastern and Southern Africa.

During the last hundred years the habitat of this biggest and heaviest bird has been destroyed to a great extent. The ostrich was always appreciated for its meat, feathers and leather. Therefore the uncontrolled hunting has led to the its population decline. The Arabic race of the Ostrich was hunted even to its distinction; the Arabic Ostrich was last time sighted in 1966.

The Ostrich is unlikely misidentified. The male is black and white; females and young ostrich are greyish brown and white. If seen alone, the young bird might be mistaken for a Korhaan but can be distinguished by its very thick legs and flattened bill. A nocturnal booming call is made by the male and sounds like a lion´s roar. Domestic and feral in most regions, the only genuine wild populations occur in the northern parts of Namibia.

Male Ostriches can grow up to a height of 2.5 meters and a weight of 135 kg. They can live up to the age of 70 years, with 50 being typical. Ostrich brains are as big as a walnut and smaller than their eyes. They are not particularly intelligent, but with the largest eyeball of any bird, they can see as far as 2.2 miles (3.5 km).

Although most birds have four toes per foot the Ostrich is the only one with just two toes per foot. In the time of breeding especially the males are aggressive and belligerent. Then the Ostrich might use the bigger toe with its 4 inch-claw to attack – by kicking like kangaroos do. In fact, its kick is strong enough to kill a lion.

Already once in history this huge bird was endangered: During the 18th century, the French queen, Marie Antoinette, popularized the fashion of wearing a feather in one's hat. Women searched for the most beautiful feathers, leading them to the ostrich. Hunting these birds became a large-scale enterprise world-wide. Ostriches were on the verge of extinction, but then a saviour came - the automobile. Ostrich feathers flowed beautifully when ladies pranced around on horses. But in the automobile, the feathers became a mess. And so the fashion fell out of use, thus saving the ostrich!

For sure the Ostriches don´t know that in Namibia they are “Birds of the Year 2013”. Anyhow it would not change their way of living. But we hope that something similar happens like the invention of the automobile: Anything that enables the current populations to stay stable or even to grow.

Nearly I forgot the most important: Congratulation, Ostrich!

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