"A region of emptiness, howling and drear,
Which man hath abandoned from famine and fear;
Which the ostrich and lizard inhabit alone,
With the twilight bat from the old hollow stone;
Where grass, nor herb, nor shrub take root,
Save poisonous thorns that pierce the foot;
And the bitter-melon for food and drink,
Is the pilgrim's fare by the salt lake's brink!"
Although the ostrich is undoubtedly capable of undergoing thirst for a considerable period, yet water appears to be indispensable to its existence. In the dry and hot season I have often observed the same flock drinking almost daily. They swallow the water by a succession of gulps. On such occasions, that is, when approaching a spring, they seem quite stupefied. While staying at Elephant Fountain, where in a short time I killed eight of these magnificent birds, they made their appearance regularly every day about noon; and although the locality afforded but indifferent shelter, they invariably allowed me to get within range, only retreating step by step.
Like the capercali of Europe, the ostrich has a plurality of wives—from two to six, it is said. The breeding season would seem to be somewhat undefined, for I have met with nests in every month from June till October. Each female is represented as laying from twelve to sixteen eggs, and all in one and the same nest, which is simply a cavity scooped out in the sand.
Both male and female assist in hatching the eggs, which are placed upright, in order, it would seem, "that the greatest possible number may be stowed within the space." When about a dozen eggs are laid, the bird, which squats astride over them, with its legs pointed forward, begins to sit. I have observed that on perceiving a man, instead of running away from the nest, it not unfrequently lowers its conspicuous neck till it becomes in a line with the ground, evidently in the hope that it may be passed unnoticed.