13.07.2017

Did you know that most birds do not have a penis?


Ostriches are one of the few birds that have a penis, a protruding mating organ in the cloaca. Both faeces and urine is excreted from the cloaca. © Dirk Heinrich

A very rare sight, five ostriches in the water-filled Etosha pan. The large flightless birds were kilometres away from the nearest dry bank. Ostriches can survive for long period without water. © Dirk Heinrich

Ostrich chicks stand in the hen’s shadow. Not only do they have numerous enemies but they are also very sensitive to cold and wet conditions. © Dirk Heinrich

Birds do not have penises like mammals do, most birds can only enact erectile processes at the cloaca (reproductive opening). Flightless birds, such as ostriches, waterfowl (Anatidae) and tinamou, have a retractable penis which serves as a mating organ in the cloaca.

The exact number of ostriches found in Namibia is unknown. Those that do occur in Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Angola and Zimbabwe belong to the subspecies Struthio camelus australis, and do not come into contact with the three subspecies that occur in East Africa, sub-Saharan Central Africa and West Africa. The males weigh around 100 kilograms and can grow up to two metres tall, they have black plumage and white feathers on their tails and wings. The females, also flightless, have grey-brown plumage and are slightly lighter than the roosters. A nest can easily hold more than 40 eggs, which are laid by the major hen and some junior hens in a sand-pit. Only the male and the major hen watch over the eggs. During the day, the female broods and the male ostrich takes over at night. It is assumed that only 15 percent of the chicks survive to adulthood and become sexually mature. Among the enemies of full grown ostriches, are lions and leopards, while young ostriches are preyed on by Martial Eagles and jackals. Eggs are taken from the nests by Egyptian Vultures, brown hyenas and jackals. The ostrich chicks are also very sensitive to cold and wet conditions.

In Namibia, ostriches are found in the Namib Desert, the arid areas of the Pro-Namib, the Kalahari, Etosha National Park and numerous commercial farms. They can reach speeds of up to 70km/h and defend themselves with the strong claws on their toes.

Dirk Heinrich 


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