April 08, 2016

Photo Essay: Chasing Down Some Flightless Feathered Friends

Up in in Pine Canyon, just outside of Lake Hughes (and down the road from Freedom Ranch), there's a place where you can witness the living manifestation of millions of years of evolution, a periscope view of the very distant past.

It may be called "Quail Run," but you'll pull off the road here to see a very different kind of bird at this roadside ranch.

This is one of the few remaining California farms devoted to the world's largest bird, the fancy-feathered ostrich.

These cuties can't fly--and, as far as we know, they never could--but they sure can run.

The juveniles at the ranch have outgrown the furry spots on their heads, but the newly grown-in feathers of the males are still brown, and won't turn black until they're closer to maturity.

Ostriches have the largest eyes of any land animal, but because their heads aren't so big, that doesn't leave a lot of room for much brain.

Still, they've survived on this planet since the Pleistecene period, which is longer than the mammoth, the mastodon, the saber-toothed tiger—all of which coexisted with the ostrich and subsequently went extinct.

Even modern homo sapiens didn't come about until the later Paleolithic era.

The ostrich—the only two-toed bird on earth—is probably the closest living thing we've got to a dinosaur.

They may not be smart, but they've got great survival skills—probably thanks to an immune system that's superior to any others known to mankind. These birds just don't get sick.

They do, however, peck at a camera lens and try to rip the shirt sleeve right off of your arm.

At Quail Run, the adults are paired off in their own enclosures for breeding, with names like "Elvis and Prissy" and "Gomez and Morticia."

They'd rather have chosen their own mates for breeding; but—like the rest of us, I suppose—they'll take what they can get.

There's one adolescent male ostrich, Aldrich, who's become a kind of mascot for the ranch...

...mostly because it's pretty easy to get him to do his mating dance, which is kind of a combination of dipping it low and dropping it like it's hot.

Like peacocks, the ostrich males are the flamboyant show-offs—and you don't want to get too close to the fence of Aldrich's enclosure just yet...

...because he is ready for love—as you can tell by the testosterone-induced red hue of his beak.

Right now, the only safe companion for him is a goat.

Quail Run used to raise ostriches for other farms to sell for their lean meat, but now they keep them all to themselves. Ostriches can actually be quite valuable, and so the ranch also incubates eggs to raise chicks.

A limited supply of ostrich eggs, the largest of all bird eggs (and probably more akin to dinosaur eggs), are available for sale. They're edible—with less cholesterol than chicken eggs—but one ostrich egg will make you a pretty gigantic omelette.

Some people buy empty egg shells whose innards have been "blown out," because the shells are so sturdy they're almost like porcelain. They'd have to be to have one of those eight foot birds sitting on it without breaking.

Ostrich oil—extracted from the birds' fat layer—has even been used for centuries as an ancient remedy for inflammation, burns, dry skin, and other dermatological issues.

And, apparently, you can eat that, too.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Ostrichland USA
Photo Essay: Exotic Farm to Table Dinner
Elegy for the Flightless Bird

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