Animals can do some pretty strange things, but do ostriches really bury their heads in the sand?
Let’s start by debunking this popular ‘ostrich head in sand’ myth. Ostriches most definitely do not bury their heads in the sand when they’re scared or threatened. Some people believe ostriches are so stupid they think that if they can’t see a predator, then a predator can’t see them either, so burying their head in sand will allow any potential trouble to pass them by.
Where does this ‘ostrich head in sand’ myth come from?
Tending their nests
Ostriches are flightless birds, so they dig holes in the ground up to a meter deep to lay their eggs in. To ensure all of the eggs are heated evenly, both male and female ostriches use their beaks to rotate the eggs several times a day. This can look like they’re sticking their head in the ground (and technically they are putting their head in the ground, briefly!). But they’re certainly not trying to hide by doing this.
Optical illusion when feeding
As large birds with small heads, if you see an ostrich picking at the ground from a distance it can look like its head is buried in the ground when it’s simply at ground level.
Optical illusion when lying on the ground
It’s a known behavior of ostriches that if they sense danger when on or around their nest they often drop their whole body, neck, and head down to the ground in the hopes that the predator won’t see them. In this position, they are somewhat camouflage and can blend in with the terrain.
When doing this their head never actually goes underground, but as their light-colored neck blends in with the sandy ground, it can make it look as though they’ve buried their head and neck underground.
Why is this ostrich myth false?
This theory is a myth for two significant reasons:
- First and foremost, any ostrich that buried its head in the sand to try and evade predators would be sure to have its genes removed from the gene pool pretty quickly!
- Even if there were no predators around, an ostrich with its head buried in the sand wouldn’t be able to breathe.
Aside from which, ostriches have significant natural defenses which mean they have little reason to hide:
Not only is the ostrich the fastest bird on land, but they’re the fastest animals on two legs, capable of running at a top speed of 69 km, and able to maintain a steady speed over distance of 49 kilometers per hour.
The ostrich is also the tallest and heaviest bird, reaching over 2.5 meters tall and a weight of up to 160 kg. Their size and weight means they have long, powerful legs that double up as defensive weapons to pack an extremely powerful death kick to would-be predators.
Passing into popular culture
Common usage of the phrase
To bury one’s head in the sand is a well-known idiom that has been used since Roman times to describe someone ignoring or denying the existence of a problem, hoping that by simply denying the existence of a problem it will eventually go away
The ostrich effect
This myth about ostrich behavior has named a theory in the world of behavioral finance, known as the ostrich effect. The term is used to describe attempts by investors to avoid negative financial information by pretending it doesn’t exist.
That’s your lot for our take on the ostrich head in sand myth. What’s your take on it? Let us know in the comments below!