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Ratites (the order Struthioniformes) – Ostrich, Emu, Cassowary, Rhea, Kiwi, Elephant bird, and Giant Moa

Ratites (the order Struthioniformes) – Ostrich, Emu,  Cassowary, Rhea, Kiwi, Elephant bird, and Giant Moa
bySamantha Yocius Creative Media
Ratites (the order Struthioniformes) – Ostrich, Emu,  Cassowary, Rhea, Kiwi, Elephant bird, and Giant Moa
bySamantha Yocius Creative Media

I fell into the very feathered “rabbit” hole of birds recently and it seems that I keep falling deeper and deeper into it. Maybe I should grab some feathers to take flight - unlike the birds listed in the headline. This all started becuase I saw a meme with an ostrich which said, “Today I learned that ostriches often walk around and then forget where they are going. Today I also learned that my spirit animal may be an ostrich.” I found that to be quite hilarious, as I am very familiar with doing that often (thank you fibromyalgia brain fog). As my laughter died down a little, I started to question what I read to be fact or if it was just stated to make a joke. On to the internet I go. I have traversed the web and found that the statement is a bit true.

How it is to be true that ostriches often forget where they are going is due to their short term memory. It lasts about ten seconds. However, do not let that fool you into thinking that they are dumb. In comparison to the avian spectrum, ostriches fall into the middle section of intelligence. I also found that their claws (two toed feet) are mighty sharp and if you ever find yourself in Africa surrounded by a herd of ostriches, what ever you do... don’t run. They are much faster than you. Usually they mark 43 mph on a good day. Also, if you need to evade them, try to stay on either side. They can only kick forward and the power behind their kick and that claw, you most definitely will need stitches. But hey, no one is getting into a fight here. Let’s move on to the other ratites, the most primitive of the modern bird families.

Once I started reading about the ostrich, my mind wandered to how similar the emu would be. Tapity, tapity, tap I type - “difference between emu and ostrich.” I learned that Emmanuel the emu is adorable and if you have not seen his videos, it is recommended for a chuckle. In all seriousness, emus are native to Australia and weigh about a half of an ostrich, which is 200-300 lbs. Both emus and ostriches eat small pebbles to break up vegetation that they digest. Unlike it’s cousin, the emu use their strong long legs to run away from danger and are also very strong swimmers. Ostriches usually lay down in danger. Emus are the second largest bird in the world, following the ostrich, and not including the extinct elephant bird and the giant moa.

I had to keep learning about the ratites, so off I went. The cassowary is claimed to be the most dangerous bird on Earth. It weighs in roughly around 130ish lbs. and stands up to a little over six and half feet. And speaking of feet, cassowaries have three clawed tipped toes that can be called lethal weapons causing possible internal bleeding and death. There are three different species in the cassowary family: the common, or southern cassowary - New Guinea and Australia; the drawf cassowary - higher elevations of New Guinea and New Britain; and the northern cassowary - lowlands of New Guinea. One very distinguishing features of the cassowary is the ‘casque,’ or bony helmet. It sits on top of the head and looks like a hard blue mohawk. The function of the casque has been theorized as for thermal temperature regulation, display function for mating, possible protection for running throught the dense forests, and to amplify vocalizations; but these are purely hypothetical. There have been studies to suggest towards the thermal temperature regulation but not enough evidence to prove it’s accuracy as the main reason for genetic reproduction. I do have to say the casque definitely makes the cassowary stand out amongst the rest of these flightless, all looking the same, ratites.

The rhea is native to South America and have two species: Common rhea - stands around five and half feet tall and could weigh up to 80lbs.; Darwin’s rhea - smaller of the two species, standing around three and half feet and could be as small as 30 lbs. A fun fact about rheas is that they frequently associate with deer and other animals such ostriches, zebras, and antelopes. They look similar to ostriches and emus and their speed is comparable, even though not quite as fast at 37 mph.

Kiwi are nocturnal ratites that dwell in New Zealand. There are five types of kiwi and the rarest is called the Rowi. Kiwis are very small in size, comparable to a chicken and are said to have the smallest beaks in the world. The size is very interesting to me as their closest relative is the elephant bird from Madagascar, which is said to be the largest bird in the world clocking in around ten feet tall. Unfortunately, or not, the elephant bird has been extinct for thousands of years. Just like another ratite that goes by the name giant moa, which is also extinct.

Not very much is known about the giant moa, but researchers are finding clues to their behavoiral patterns, diet and habitat from their fossilized remains.

Unfortunately, the time has come to find my way out of this “feathered” rabbit hole and back into civilization. Whilst on my quest for information about these flightless birds, my brain kept thinking of Kevin from the movie “Up.” Such a great character Kevin was.