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Ostrich Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)

Ostrich in Sand

Ostriches are amongst planet earth’s most distinctive and unusual birds. Belonging to the “ratite” group of large flightless birds, which includes Emus, Cassowaries, and, oddly, Kiwis, the Ostrich is both the tallest and the heaviest bird in the world. (1)

Like other ratites, the Ostrich has sacrificed the ability to fly in favor of a body that is large, sturdy, nimble, fast, and very well-equipped to tackle the demanding conditions of the deserts and savannahs which this African bird calls home.

They may look a bit goofy, and perhaps less formidable than raptors and other birds of prey, but Ostriches are incredibly fierce. In fact, the Ostrich, alongside several of its fellow ratites, is considered one of the most dangerous and deadly birds in the world. Ostriches are capable of delivering powerful kicks when threatened which are more than enough to eviscerate an attacking predator such as a lion or a human. (2)

The Ostrich is a striking example of how diverse and strange the avian kingdom can be. There is no one “right way” to be a bird. The Ostrich demonstrates that a bird is not just a warbling songbird which delicately feeds off of backyard feeders. Birds can be warriors, they can be deadly desert nomads, they can be flightless beasts of the earth. In this article, we’ll examine the Ostrich in all of its rebellious glory!

Ostrich face
Photo by Simon Infanger on Unsplash
On this page
Ostrich Symbolism and Meaning
Ostrich Christianity Symbolism
Ostrich in Dreams
Ostrich Encounters and Omens
Ostrich Mythology and Folklore
    Native American Mythology:
    Christian/Jewish Mythology:
    Egyptian Mythology:
    Japanese Mythology:
    Greek Mythology:
Ostrich Spirit Animal
Ostrich Totem Animal
Ostrich Power Animal
Ostrich Tattoo Meaning

Ostrich Symbolism and Meaning

One particularly interesting piece of symbolism connected to the Ostrich is that of the bird with its “head in the sand.” This symbolism is commonly attached to the Ostrich and is used to demonstrate foolishness, cowardice, and obliviousness. According to legend, the Ostrich buries its head in the sand when threatened because it believes that if it cannot see a threat than the threat cannot see the Ostrich either. The only problem with this is that it is in no way true. A threatened Ostrich will typically run or fight back with its powerful legs. One possible origin for this myth is the fact that threatened Ostriches do sometimes try to hid by pressing their entire bodies flat onto the ground. This myth may also have arisen due to the fact that Ostriches nest in holes in the sand. They will occasionally lower their heads to the ground to turn over their eggs in order to monitor their temperature. Ostriches may represent the idea of burying one’s head in the sand, but it would be more accurate to connect them with misconceptions or misjudgment. The Ostrich is not nearly as foolish as this myth would have you believe. (3)(4)

Ostriches are known for their unbelievable speed. In short bursts, Ostriches can achieve top speeds which approach forty-five miles per hour. The Ostrich holds the top land speed record for the entirety of the bird world. For this reason, Ostriches may be connected with speed and dexterity. Furthermore, Ostrich racing has been a niche sport for over a century and is popular in parts of Africa, and even in a few United States destinations. Ostriches are much harder to ride than horses and often the major draw of Ostrich racing is the unusual spectacle of watching jockeys try to manage these untamed birds. Ostriches may represent eccentricity, wildness, competition, or spectacle. (5)

Ostriches live in small herds of around ten birds. They may sometimes gather into much larger herds, but these smaller herds are much more common. Within these herds, a dominant or “alpha” male and a dominant female take priority. They nest communally, but the eggs of the dominant hen are placed in the nest’s center, allowing them the best chance of hatching. Ostriches may represent community or cooperation, but they may also represent hierarchy or social stratification. (6)(7)

Ostrich on savannah
Photo by Catherine Merlin on Unsplash

Ostriches are the only birds in the entire world with just two toes. They put most of their weight on one larger toe, while the second smaller toe is used for balance. This is especially impressive considering the ways that Ostriches maneuver at high speeds. Ostriches often use their large flightless wings as “rudders” for balance and turning as they sprint through the desert. These wings are also used in courtship displays by the males. Ostriches may then represent balance, maneuverability, grace, and unexpected talents. (8)(9)

Ostrich domestication largely came about as a result of demand for Ostrich feathers in the nineteenth century. As this demand died out, Ostrich farming diminished greatly, however a number of farms still exist to this day. Ostriches produce luxurious feathers, leather that is supple and durable, meat which is compared to red meat but is more lean and considered more healthy, and enormous eggs. So, Ostriches may represent agriculture, luxury, or subsistence. (10)

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Ostrich Christianity Symbolism

It might surprise you to learn that the Ostrich does make a few appearances in the Bible. In the following passage from Job, the Ostrich is used to demonstrate the inscrutable wisdom of God’s creation:

“Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks? or wings and feathers unto the ostrich? Which leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them in dust, And forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may break them. She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not her’s: her labour is in vain without fear; Because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he imparted to her understanding.”

— Job 39:13-17 (11)

In this next section, from Lamentations, uses the Ostrich as an example of a cruel wild beast:

“Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones: the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.”

— Lamentations 4:3 (12)

In both sections, the motherhood of Ostriches is used as an example of cruel or unloving motherhood. The Ostrich represents wilderness and beastliness.

Ostrich in Dreams

Dreaming of an Ostrich may represent a number of ideas based upon the context of the dream and the circumstances of the dreamer. Dreaming of a herd of Ostriches may represent one’s community. Dreaming of fighting Ostriches may represent feeling dissatisfied with one’s place in the world or with the social hierarchies at play within one’s life.

Dreaming of a lone Ostrich may indicate isolation or vulnerability. To dream of an Ostrich with its head in the sand represents the idea that one might be ignoring something dire. Such a dream could also represent willful ignorance.

Ostrich trio
Photo by Max Murauer on Unsplash

Dreaming of riding an Ostrich may speak to the frustration that occurs when one does not feel in control of one’s own life. Such a dream can be a reminder to take the reins and take responsibility for the directions in which your life may go.

Ostrich Encounters and Omens

Encountering an Ostrich can be a poignant reminder not to underestimate others. Ostriches may seem a bit silly, but these birds are amongst the deadliest birds on the planet. It is always wise to treat them with respect.

Ostrich encounters may also represent balance and adaptability. Ostriches are fast and nimble, despite having just two toes. They use every tool that their unique anatomy provides in order to survive in harsh and unforgiving environments.

Ostrich in Mythology & Folklore

In this section, we’ll go over a few African myths which feature the Ostrich, as well as one of Aesop’s Fables.

African Mythology:

One piece of African folklore suggests that the origin of the Ostrich’s long neck comes from a marital dispute. In this tale, the Ostrich and his wife agree to take turns sitting on their nest of eggs. Because his feathers are black, the father Ostrich sits on the nest at night while his wife runs and stretches her legs. One night, the Ostrich was sitting on his nest when he heard his wife laughing. He stretched his neck to look and saw her playing a flirtatious game of tag with another male Ostrich. The Ostrich was so angry that he wanted to scold her, but he could not leave the nest. So, all night long, the father Ostrich craned his neck to watch his wife’s behavior. When she returned to the nest at dawn, he began to scold her. When he looked down at her, though, he found that she was very far away. Over night his neck had grown longer and longer because of all his stretching. (13)

Ostrich against sky
Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

According to another African tale, the Ostrich once hunted alongside the lioness as equals. The Ostrich could kill gazelle, just as the lioness could. So, the lioness assumed that the ferocious bird must be a predator like her. One day, the lioness and the Ostrich caught a gazelle and the lioness offered the Ostrich the first bite. The Ostrich declined and said that he would drink the blood but would not bite the carcass. This puzzled the lioness’s cubs. That night while the Ostrich slept, the cubs decided to investigate. They peered into the Ostrich’s beak and found that the bird had no teeth. When they told their mother, she felt that she had been tricked. She challenged the Ostrich to a fight. The Ostrich agreed and told the lioness to wait beside a tall termite mound. Then, the Ostrich kicked the mound over onto the lioness, killing her. (14)

Greek Mythology:

According to one of Aesop’s Fables, the pelican used to nurse her young with her own blood. One day, the Ostrich witnessed this and was shocked. She admonished the pelican and warned her that sacrificing her own lifeblood was not worth satisfying her young ones’ hunger. She told the pelican how her own chicks were born in holes in the sand and brought up by nature without such tender mothering. The pelican was horrified and insisted that there is no greater cause for which to sacrifice oneself than motherhood. (15)

Ostrich Spirit Animal

If your spirit animal is the Ostrich then you are likely a fiercely unique individual. The Ostrich spirit animal dances to the beat of its very own drum. People with this spirit animal tend to be confident, proud, and eccentric. The Ostrich spirit animal is often underestimated, but people with this spirit animal are both talented and very strong-willed. This incredible will power allows the Ostrich spirit animal to accomplish almost anything that it sets its mind to.

Ostrich Totem Animal

The Ostrich totem animal is connected with adaptability. People with this totem animal can change directions on a dime, even at break-neck speeds. The Ostrich totem animal is capable of rolling with life’s punches and always finds a way to come out on top. Hard times are no big deal for the Ostrich totem which looks for fresh paths and new solutions when faced with a unique problem.

Ostrich Power Animal

The Ostrich power animal is connected with perseverance. Ostriches are sometimes referred to as “camel birds,” because they sport long necks and eyelashes, just like camels do, and because they have carved out a living in the harsh environment of parched desert landscapes. Ostriches receive all the water that they need from their food, allowing them to withstand hot temperatures and punishing droughts. So, the Ostrich power animal represents the ability to endure and to find ways to thrive under almost any conditions.

Ostrich in field
Photo by Zoë Reeve on Unsplash

Ostrich Tattoo Meaning

An Ostrich tattoo may be chosen to represent courage, adaptability, eccentricity, or ferocity. One might also choose an Ostrich tattoo as a symbol of the incredible wildlife of the African savannah. Ostrich tattoos are perfect for unique individuals who pride themselves on their ability to tackle almost any challenge.

Conclusion

As we have seen, the Ostrich is not a bird that one should underestimate. Fierce, powerful, and record-smashingly fast, the Ostrich is a deadly force to be reckoned with as well as a beautiful and majestic member of the sprawling avian family tree. I hope that this article has given you a few more things to love about the unique and impressive ostrich!

More Spirit Animal Symbolism to Read About:
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Gallinule Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)
Crane Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)
Hamerkop Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)
Harrier Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)
Nighthawk Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)

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