Why Do Ostriches Have Feathers? (Explained)

by Alex Kountry
Updated on

Ostriches are first and foremost, birds. So it is not out of place that they have feathers.

Their feathers also help them to cope with the harsh weather conditions of their habitats.

Besides these, Ostriches have feathers as part of their dating ritual. What do we mean by all of these, and why do ostriches even have wings if they cannot fly?

This article addresses these questions and many more. Stay with us for all the answers.

Why Do Ostriches Have Feathers?

Why Do Ostriches Have Feathers

Ostriches have feathers for the following reasons:

1. They are birds:

In any animal described as a “bird”, one of its distinguishing features is usually feathers.

The ostrich is no different. The ostrich has feathers because it is a bird and is originally of the avian family.

Scientific studies have shown that prior to losing their ability to fly, ostriches evolved from birds that flew across continents.

Perhaps, their massive weight necessitated that they evolved features more adapted to flightlessness because flying takes up much energy even in birds not possessing up to 10 per cent of the ostrich’s weight.

In summary, birds have feathers, ostriches are birds, ostriches have feathers.

2. To cope with the conditions of their habitats:

Ostriches predominantly live in habitats with very harsh weather conditions.

For example, Ostriches in Africa have to endure the scorching heat and the glare of the sun. In these conditions, without feathers, ostriches would probably roast alive.

Their feathers serve the purpose of thermoregulation. This process is important if they are to survive the harsh weather conditions of the African desert.

At high ambient temperatures, their feathers regulate heat loss by transferring the heat from one part of their bodies to another in a process called convective heat loss.

They do this by flattening their feathers in a bid to reduce heat loss.

Their smooth, soft, and loose feathers also allow for the unlikely breeze that blows in the desert to have a cooling effect on them.

It is for this reason that ostriches are classified as Xerocoles.

This feature also explains why ostriches can adapt to varying climatic conditions as evidenced by the fact that they are also presently resident in the Earth’s colder regions or areas.

3. As part of their dating ritual:

As one source puts it, “their main use, though, along with the tail feathers, is for displays and courtship.

To show dominance, an ostrich holds its head up high and lifts its wings and tail feathers; to show submission, the head, wings, and tail droop down.”

During the breeding season, ostriches seek to assert dominance over hens and chase away the competition.

According to National Geographic, “During the breeding season, the alpha male makes a nest in the ground and attempts to attract females by, believe it or not, dancing!

His impressive moves include dropping to the ground, shaking his wings and tail, and swaying his head and neck from side to side.”

Here is an article I wrote on why do ostriches have big eyes

Are Ostrich Covered With Feathers?

No, unlike most birds ostriches are not covered with feathers.

They have long white necks and legs that are bare.

Only their midsection is covered with feathers.

Female ostriches typically have brown bodies whereas male ostriches have black bodies with the exception of their tail and wing feathers which are white.

Why Does An Ostrich Have Wings If It Can Not Fly?

Ostriches have wings even if they cannot fly for the following reasons:

  1. Adaptation

Scientific research in the realm of evolution suggests that ostriches evolved from flying birds.

This would explain why even many years later, Ostriches have retained their wings. Without its wings, we don’t suppose we could even term an ostrich a bird.

  • Direction

While the ostrich’s wings are useless for flight, they are pretty effective in helping them change direction quickly and maintaining their balance when running.

This function is indispensable to them in the wild where they have to worry about getting away from predators. To do that, sometimes, a quick change of direction while on top speed is all that is needed.

  • As part of the mating ritual

As mentioned earlier, the ostrich’s wings serve its purpose during their mating ritual.

During the breeding season, the alpha male attempts to attract females by dancing.

His impressive moves include dropping to the ground, shaking his wings and tail feathers, and swaying his head and neck from side to side.

The wings of an ostrich is what is referred to in learned circles as a ‘vestigial structure’.

For the ancestors of the ostrich, it once served the purpose of flight (flying), now it serves the purpose of a different kind of flight (running).

Why Do Ostriches Pluck Their Feathers?

Ostriches Pluck their feathers for the following reasons:

  1. Grooming

Earlier in this article, we mentioned that one of the ways in which an ostrich attracts mates is with his feathers which he utilizes in his dance ritual.

To make himself look more appealing, the ostrich would pluck out feathers he doesn’t consider aesthetically pleasing enough to seduce a mate.

Just the same way we would get a haircut to accentuate our best features, the ostrich would do the same to his feathers to enable him look his best.

  • Boredom

Just in the same manner people pluck at their hair or bite at their nails for no reason besides boredom or having nothing else to do, ostriches would do the same to their feathers.

  • Sexual frustration

Breeding season is a period where ostriches that are not getting any action are seen plucking their feathers out of frustration.

In this way, they are similar to humans who sometimes pull their hair out of frustration.

  • Temperature

Ostriches may pluck their feathers in a bid to regulate their body’s temperature.

If they perceive that they are not getting enough sunlight, Ostriches, particularly those in colder regions may pluck their feathers to enable them more access to it.

  • Health condition

Particularly amongst ostriches in an Ostrich farm, feather plucking has sometimes been seen as a symptom of illness.

Ostriches that are unwell would pluck their feathers as a coping mechanism- a sort of self-soothing technique.

Do Ostriches Have Fur Or Feathers?

Ostriches have feathers and Not fur. Even though its feathers are usually soft and unlike those of other birds, it is just that: feathers.

How Do Ostriches Care For Their Feathers?

Ostriches care for their feathers by grooming them.

They do this to attract females.

But for the most part, the unique beauty and texture of the ostrich’s feathers owe its root to nature and not the ostrich’s personal effort.


For a bird that cannot fly, the Ostrich’s feathers are a wonder of nature.

They are soft and beautiful and have been used to adorn the finery of women for centuries.

For those who own ostrich farms, the ostrich’s feathers are really of no use to it and are best utilized in making hats or serving other ornamental purposes.

For these ones, ostriches have feathers to beautify the lives of the next client who purchases an Ostrich-feather-based-accessory.

In this article, we have shown that we do not hold the same notion.

We have shown that the ostrich’s feathers are important to its existence.

They serve as clothing and also help to ensure that it is able to procreate by enticing females with its beautiful plumes.

Photo of author

About the author

Alex Kountry

Alex Kountry is the founder of HayFarmGuy and has been a backyard farmer for over 10 years. Since then he has decided to write helpful articles that will help you become a better backyard farmer and know what to do. He also loves to play tennis and read books


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