Ostriches are the largest bird in the world, but despite their stature they still need to fight hard to protect their chicks against predators. Here is the story of the ostriches in Ezemvelo Nature Reserve in Gauteng.
Around November last year, I was very happy to find three different ostrich nests on the reserve. I had never seen baby ostriches in real life before so I was quite excited to see that the nests were full of eggs!
The male ostriches mate with many females that then share the same nest, meaning they are often brimming with eggs. One day I counted 26 eggs in the same nest! With ostriches, both the female and male incubate the eggs. Females usually look after the nest during the day and the male at night. One of the females will normally be dominant and will try to keep her eggs in the middle of the nest to ensure they will hatch while pushing the others out of the nest. As the nests are usually big, some of the eggs cannot fit under the ostrich, lowering their chances of hatching.
While ostriches are known to be aggressively protective of their nests, our ostriches weren’t very successful in fending off hungry animals.
A few weeks after discovering the nests, I saw they had been emptied out by predators, probably baboons or brown hyaenas. The eggs were scattered all around the nest and some of them were broken. After seeing this we were all really disappointed as we were looking forward to seeing the ostrich chicks hatch in the coming months.
However, it wasn’t long before I discovered a new nest while on a game drive at the end of December. Almost every day during the incubation I kept an eye on the nest to make sure the parents were incubating the eggs and protecting them from curious predators. Finally in mid-February I was ecstatic to see that three eggs had hatched.
The female stayed on the nest with the chicks for a few days after that, probably waiting for the other eggs to hatch and protecting the babies that were hiding under her wings. Finally, she started to move, always escorted by the male and followed closely by the chicks. The parents were very protective and were always looking around for predators. Unfortunately for the family, as is often the case in nature the three babies did not survive the cunning jackals and were eventually hunted down.
Nevertheless, another family has been discovered walking in the reserve with nine chicks. I am now hoping that at least a few of them will make it to adulthood.
If you come and visit Ezemvelo Nature Reserve, you might be lucky enough to see them while driving around or on a game drive.