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Do ostriches really bury their heads in the sand?

The Answer

No. Ostriches periodically lean down to adjust the eggs in their below-ground nests, leading observers to think they’re burying their heads underground.

This misconception gives ostriches a bad rap. Truthfully, ostriches are not stupid cowards who think hiding their tiny heads in the sand makes them invisible. But even if it did help them hide, they really wouldn’t need it anyway.

Ostriches are the fastest animals on two legs, capable of running as fast as 40 miles per hour for a brief period if they have to outrun trouble. Endurance isn’t an issue either for these birds – they can sprint at a brisk 30 miles per hour for a full 10 miles straight if needed.

Do ostriches really bury their heads in the sand? | HowStuffWorks

And if they still end up in a fight, they stand a decent chance. They’re 9 feet tall, they weigh 350 pounds, and a single kick is powerful enough to kill a lion.

So how did this misconception come to be? There are a couple of factors. First, ostriches use shallow holes in the ground as nests (they can’t use trees since they can’t fly). A few times per day, they bend their head down and turn the eggs. Since the head goes underground and out of view, onlookers can be led to believe the ostriches are burying their heads in the sand.

Secondly, when an ostrich is in a situation where it’s threatened and it’s unable to run or fight, they do try to hide, but not underground. They lie down with their head and neck flat on the ground beside them so only the body is visible. To someone who can only see the body, this also looks like the head is buried underneath the sand.

So, unless an ostrich is metaphorically burying their head in the sand, by “refusing to think about unpleasant facts, although they will have an influence on [their] situation” (per Cambridge English Dictionary) that’s not really something ostriches do.

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