True facts about the male ostrich’s mating dance

January 8, 2020 • 2:15 pm

Several readers sent me this new video by Ze Frank, which is shorter than his other videos and also has unique music (Ze Frank wrote  the music, too).  I had no idea that ostriches mate this way, and it’s interesting to contemplate what the female is looking for here when she’s “choosing”. (I don’t think it’s “beauty”.)

34 thoughts on “True facts about the male ostrich’s mating dance

  1. The ostrich is one bizarre creature. The matriarch of a harem of females incubates, with the male, all of the females’ eggs in a communal nest. The harem females are free to drop off their eggs in the communal nest and skedaddle, leaving the matriarch to watch over the clutch of 15-20 eggs. This might seem foolish for the matriarch to be so accommodating but it’s thought she can recognize her own eggs amongst the others and can roll out the other females’ eggs when a predator comes calling. In an environment where few eggs survive and fewer become adults, this strategy ensures that perhaps her offspring will at least be the last to be eaten and might have a sporting chance to make it.
    The communal brood also ensures the dominant matriarch’s chicks (Who presumably have inherited their mother’s dominant physical traits) will be surrounded by lesser, weaker, slower chicks that probably will be first to fall prey to predation. Crazy like a fox, this ostrich hen.

    1. That is very interesting. But wouldn’t it make sense for the harem females to look after their own eggs given that their eggs and hatchlings will be used as cannon fodder by the matriarch? Though I guess being free of brooding duty has its advantage.

      1. The male comes with the territorial male. HE stays and helps, the ‘matriarch’ appears to defend the nest against the subordinate females to some degree — it would be interesting if she accepts the others’ egg-laying [for reasons guessed at above] or if they are sneaking, perhaps with collaboration by the male?

      2. It’s dangerous business sitting on that nest in the middle of the savanna. (The males are black presumably because they have night duty). There must be some trade off for the harem females to avoid dangerously incubating eggs with the lesser (but not zero)chance of having one of your offspring survive.

        1. Yes, it is dangerous, but what I do not understand is the reason for the specialization. The matriarch specializes in the dangerous job while the other females flee. Why does that specialization happen?

            1. I guess they would be about equal in fitness terms, but I’m not sure that explains the phenomenon. To put it another way, why don’t other birds have a communal nest and matriarch given they face nest predators too? Is it because ostriches cannot fly, or something to do with their environment, I wonder? Do all ratites do this? Just curious.

              1. Ok I see what you mean. Don’t know about other ratites. May be a consequence of male availability. The matriarch needs the male to incubate the chicks at night but there might not be enough males to go around because they are more vulnerable due to their coloration or the fact that there on their knees doing that awful dance in the middle of the damn savanna.

              2. But most likely I think it has to do with their extreme vulnerability. Only 10% of nests survive and only 10% of chicks in those nests become adults. By being able to concentrate the chicks into a large gaggle rather than dispersing them into smaller nests, must have some advantage, the same way quail find advantages by grouping into coveys. Just speculating here, though. Don’t know the textbook answer.

  2. Ze Frank is one of the most amusing guys around. He has a child-like sense of humor I like. Plus, you always learn stuff.

  3. This one was different!
    I had wished that he would do these, or some of these, w/o obscenities so I may link to them in a class web site. For humor + some education, since his narrations often get around to providing some useful details.

    1. I listened on good headphones at several playback speeds but I still couldn’t understand a single word — fortunately a couple of commenters on the YouTube page revealed the secret: “If these kids are idiots I’m gonna track you down”.

  4. Interesting that the male starts up his dance again (and, if Ze Frank is to be believed, his inner dialogue) during the act, while the female carries on eating grass.

  5. Was a great video although he didn’t do his iconic that’s how…do.
    Also was not aware how deep Frank can be. I really enjoyed his Ted talk on if you are a human. Keep up the good work. That’s how Frank do.

    1. Oh, yeah, you’re right April, there was no “That’s how these birds do”, which I get such a kick out of😻

  6. I really enjoy the True Facts videos for their clever narration and editing, but this is just a video of birds humping with a silly song in the background. It’s amusing but there really isn’t much here. I hope this is a one-off and not the direction Ze Frank is going.

  7. Pan-sike-ism or this video – such a difficult decision.

    The song is also stuck in my head. Did he say “I spell ostrich with a “D””?

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