Having ignored the birds altogether last week, due to a fit of outrage at international tourists in Johannesburg, I thought I should make up for this indiscretion this week with due regard to the sensitivity of ornithologists everywhere and pick a really BIG bird. Like an Ostrich.
The Ostrich (struthio camelus) is unfortunately subject to some discriminatory prejudice about its alleged failure to fly. Flight is after all pretty much an acid test for birds, so I have decided to end the speculation. A Dutch sculptor called Bart Jansen has coincidentally just released a YouTube video of an Ostrich flying quite impressively. Doubtful? Go to YouTube (“ostrichcopter”) and be thrilled by the aerobatics of this graceful bird.
The Ostrich is the largest of the 8,600 bird species which currently exist (excluding the Maluti Double-Breasted Pushover) and stands tall on long, bare legs (see, more discriminatory comments). It has a long, curving, predominantly white neck and the humped body of the male is covered in black patches while its wings and tail are tipped with white – reminiscent of a Church of Scotland preacher. These are seriously big birds, reaching a height of 2.6 metres and weighing in at around 135 kilograms, so would put a serious dent in your budgie feed bill.
My late brother-in-law used to breed these beasts and the first thing you need to know is that, come nightfall, they sound just like lions. Absolutely true and certainly enough to make an unsuspecting tourist mess his pants, alone in his little pup-tent in the open plains of Africa. Granted, they are too big to sit on your wrist and don’t talk much, but I’ll bet they could be taught to do tricks for the children. Unlike house sparrows, they make good eating, assuming you can you can shoot one from the skies. At 165 calories per 100 grams of raw, ground (?) Ostrich, you can glut yourself and have little fear of getting fat, given that these jolly creatures are only 13% fat and will buck up your system with tons of vitamin B6 and B12. By the way, Ostrich neck in red wine is a Swiss favourite and beats the hell out of Oxtail.
And the feathers are a delight, either at the end of a feather-duster or in the hands of an attentive lover. But don’t try to eat an Ostrich omelette unless you have a death wish; apart from its size, which is formidable, this little treat is rich beyond measure and will surely reduce you to a cholesterol seizure in minutes – although you will die with a contented burp. One way or another, this bird is for serious enthusiasts and should be treated with care, given the size of its claws and its ability to unzip hapless adventurers from stem to stern.
So, depending on your inclination, you can either try to run one down on the open plains of the Eastern Free State and domesticate it in your living room, or you could visit Riempies the Butcher and begin the easy way – with lots of salt and pepper. Enjoy.