Ostrich by Ellen
There is an old Eastern legend to the effect that, once upon a time,
ostriches, in addition to being the largest and strongest birds on the
face of the earth, were also the proudest, the most contemptuous, and
the most egregiously conceited birds in creation.
So inflated with pride were they at their superior size and strength,
that they looked down upon all their feathered companions, taunted and
twitted them, and were forever exhibiting their wonderful powers of
flight and beauty of form.
On one occasion they intimated to the smaller birds that they were
going to fly to the sun, and winged creatures from far and wide, of
all sizes and species, and of all colors, came to witness this
Phoebus, the sun god, furiously angry at such unheard of presumption,
waited until they were a little way up, and then punished them by
suddenly singeing off their wings.
Deprived of their power of flying, the ostriches fell so heavily to
the earth, and struck the ground so violently, that it made a deep
mark on their breasts. This has been reproduced in all succeeding
generations from that time to this.
This is the reason that ostriches have such tiny wings, and that one
and all have this peculiar mark on their breasts. Never, from that
time to this, has any ostrich been able to fly. But even this has not
entirely subdued their pride and arrogance, and their insufferable
Osra, who was an African ostrich, had his full share of pride and
conceit. He certainly was a very fine, full-grown male bird, and the
beautiful, white, flowing feathers of his tail and wings were
He stood eight feet high, and measured over six feet from the tip of
his beak to the end of his tail, while his weight must have been fully
two hundred pounds.
Handsome as he was, he looked a little out of proportion—like all of
his kin. He seemed to be too large in some places and too small in
others; while some parts of his body were thickly covered with
beautiful, flaky feathers, and other parts had no feathers at all,
only a few, little bristles: in some places the skin was quite bare.
His small, flat head and long neck were almost destitute of feathers
or hair, and yet his quick, bright eyes were surrounded by long, thick
eyelashes, that many a fashionable beauty might have envied.
His long legs, with only a few bristles on the thighs, had a curious
effect under the rich feathers of his tiny wings, while the lower
parts, covered with large, thick scales and ending in big feet, with
only two toes each, were other details which added to his curious
Osra, at this time, was a very important bird indeed, for he possessed
six wives, and, as all these wives had been laying eggs lately, he had
had a very busy time.
For the wife of an ostrich considers if she lays the eggs that is all
she can be expected to do. The males do all the hatching, even making
the nest in preparation for the eggs.
Osra, strong as he was, had a very busy time hollowing out that nest
in the sand, and scraping up a small wall all round it so that his
wives could, if they liked, place the eggs on end, and so not take up
so much space. For all his wives laid in the same nest, and as there
were already over twenty eggs, and each egg was a large one, it needed
a good big nest.
Not that Osra's wives were over particular about the eggs being
actually in the nest, as long as they laid them near it. Ostriches
don't believe in being too fastidious; any eggs that happened to be
outside the nest would be there for the young ostriches to eat when
they were hatched. For, as the wife of the ostrich considers she has
done her duty when she has laid the eggs, so the father considers he
has done his duty when he has hatched them with the help of the sun.
Once they are hatched he is practically done with them, for no ostrich
ever made a good parent yet, although in time of danger they will do
their very best to guard their young.
There had been a time when Osra had some very exciting fights, but
this had been when he was selecting his wives. He did not believe in
allowing any other ostrich to get a wife that he wanted, and he had
never yet been beaten. More than one fully grown, male ostrich had he
killed while having an argument on this point, and he always found
that the wives which cost him the most fights and the greatest amount
of trouble were the ones he liked the best. This is something like the
seal, who does not think any wife worth having unless he has to fight
He had no time for fights now, and, moreover, having got as many wives
as he wanted and the ones he wanted, there was no occasion for
fighting. And so he led a quiet, domestic life at this time; walked
about with his wives by day and helped to get them food, and then,
when the sun was no longer strong enough to help in the hatching, Osra
went and sat on the eggs, where he stayed until the sun got up again.
And so it went on until the young ostriches came out.
Osra felt very proud of them, for they were fine, healthy young birds,
and although they had rather a quaint air—being covered with a
curious, bristly-looking growth, which made them look like young
hedgehogs—from the very day they kicked off the thick, glossy,
yellowish-white shell which had covered them, they could run about and
even pick up their food from the ground.
They soon ate up the odd eggs that were lying about, cracked them
easily with their strong little beaks, and scraped out the inside as
though they had been practicing it for years. By the end of a
fortnight they were about the size of barn-door fowls, and quite
Neither Osra nor his wives had taken much notice of them during this
eventful fortnight, except to glance at them occasionally and
acknowledge to themselves that they were exceedingly fine young birds;
but, when they were able to trot about in this manner, and were no
longer troublesome, the parents occasionally took them for walks, and
a very fine family they were, too.
They had many adventures during these walks, some of them very
Once, as they were striding across the plain, they saw a stranger
approaching, and although Osra was somewhat suspicious, he yet had
sufficient curiosity to let him come quite close, and even among them.
The stranger was a somewhat curious ostrich, and did not walk in quite
so dignified or stately a manner as an ostrich usually does. His head
and neck moved somewhat stiffly, in curious little jerks, and his
legs, although they were very white, were rather a curious shape.
Still there could be no doubt that he was an ostrich, because his back
was covered with ostrich feathers, and no one can imitate an ostrich's
head and neck.
And so the stranger was allowed to come into their very midst, and
just as Osra was thinking of inspecting him more minutely, for he did
not approve of strangers, there was a fearful noise, a blaze of fire
and smoke, and one of his wives and two or three of his children fell
Osra waited no longer; with a peculiar sort of guttural chuckle he
stretched out his long legs, and with tremendous strides—which
covered from twenty to twenty-two feet at a time—flew like the wind,
followed by his remaining wives and little ones.
Away they went, taking no thought or heed of the young ones so that
they got away, and when they had been racing for some time at the rate
of twenty miles an hour, Osra was surprised to find himself and his
wives back at the very same spot!
There were the bodies of his wife and children, and there also was the
Osra was taken by surprise, for although he was not particularly good
at hearing, he prided himself on his sight, and he was a little
puzzled to know how he could have got to the very same spot again
without seeing where he was going.
But, startled as he was, and puzzled as he had felt at this stranger
ostrich, he suddenly did what, had he only done before, might have
saved the lives of his wife and children.
Kicking out sideways with one of his powerful legs, he knocked that
stranger ostrich over, and over, and over, with such a blow that his
head and neck flew in one direction, a curious thing, from which came
out more fire and smoke, in another, and a straight body with the head
and face of a man, or what was left of it, went in a third, and lay
Osra hesitated a little, and then went up and examined each part of
the ostrich. It had only been an imitation ostrich after all; for the
head and neck were mounted on a stick, the feathers were only sewn on
to a skin stuffed with straw, and the curious, little white legs
belonged to a man who was now quite dead.
Osra and his wives paced slowly about for some time, and after a while
were joined by their little ones, who were worn out and exhausted by
the long run.
This was one adventure, and one that frightened the young ones very
much. But they had a good time afterwards, for Osra led them, with
slow and stately steps, to a farm close by, where there were some
nice, young broods of soft, fluffy chickens, and tiny, little yellow
ducklings running about with their mothers.
With a cool and indifferent air Osra and his wives took up the little
fluffy chickens one by one, and swallowed them whole; the poor
bewildered mothers clucking and screaming, and spreading out their
wings, wondering where on earth their families had gone.
Having picked up all the fluffy little chickens, they went on and
picked up the little yellow ducklings, and the poor mothers hissed and
scolded, and did everything in their power to defend their darlings
from these huge, horrible, creatures which demolished them so quickly.
While they were doing this the young ostriches set to work and ate up
all the stray eggs they could find, one or two small animals, and some
young wild birds who were so unsophisticated as to believe them to be
mother hens, and so injudicious as to hop quite close to them in order
to pick up the corn.
Having eaten all they could find, the family prepared to depart, the
old birds, followed by the mother hens and the mother ducks, in
terrible distress and furious anger.
In vain they pecked, hissed and scolded at the huge legs and two-toed
feet of the ostriches. The legs and feet went solemnly and haughtily
on, occasionally stepping on the poor, distracted mothers, who cared
not what they did or what happened to them now that they were bereaved
of their little ones.
Away they went through the farm with their peculiar, swinging walk,
followed by their young ones, who ate up all that came in their way,
and felt that this delightful feast more than made up for their
terrible fright in the earlier part of the day.
But just as they were going out of the gate of the farm Osra suddenly
saw, in a sort of paddock, another ostrich, and stayed behind to say
something to her.
[Illustration: "OSRA AND HIS WIVES TOOK UP THE CHICKENS, ONE BY ONE,
AND SWALLOWED THEM WHOLE."]
In some curious way the gate of the paddock opened, and Osra—proving,
with all his high opinion of himself, how extremely stupid he could be
on occasion—walked gravely in. As soon as he was in, the gate of the
paddock closed in the same mysterious way, and it was not until he had
been talking to the strange ostrich for some little time that he
realized, with an awful shock, that his wives and children had gone,
and that he was a prisoner.
Now, he had liked the strange ostrich very much, and, although she had
told him that she was not an African ostrich, he thought her very
beautiful; at the same time, he did not wish to stay with her
altogether, away from his wives and children, and, as soon as he found
that he was a prisoner and that they had gone, he did his very best to
make his escape.
But the paddock was strong, and, although Osra could run round and
round it in a few minutes, he could neither jump nor fly over the
And so, in spite of his great strength, in spite of his huge body and
wonderfully muscular legs, he could do nothing, for he could not fly.
And so he had to suffer the punishment for the wrong-doing of his
He was as savage and dangerous as he could be for a long time, and his
captors were extremely careful to keep out of the reach of his hard,
straight bill and strong, powerful legs.
For a little while he would not even eat, but this did not last long,
and it was by the persuasion of his new friend that he began to take
his food again.
Once having done this, he grew more reconciled, and, as he found that
his new companion was very beautiful, he began to forget his wives and
children, and in time—although not without many struggles to get out
and many savage onslaughts at the fences—he settled down into an
ordinary African farm ostrich, and was perhaps just as contented as
any of his companions.
He never saw his wives and children again; for the matter of that, he
did not want to. In time he had six wives of his own at the farm, and
strutted about in his grave, dignified and conceited way, proving
himself a fairly good husband, but always ready for and somewhat
greedy about meals. And, although he was never allowed out on the
farm, as some of the American ostriches were, he grew in time to be
quite contented, and even fairly happy.