Ratites are the original birds that do not fly or communicate by voice, but use body language. There are only 5 today:
The ostrich, the emu, the rhea, the cassowary and the kiwi.
1000 years ago the elephant bird of Madagascar still existed. It was the largest bird in history and laid the largest eggs of all animals in history. And about 600 years ago the giant New Zealand Moa still existed. Both were hunted by humans to extinction.
As the dinosaurs became extinct, paleontologists say the planet was dominated by giant crocodiles, giant snakes, and ratites (giant flightless birds).
The last to become extinct, also hunted by man, was the famous dodo in the year 1662.
Ostrich (Struthio Camelus)
It is the largest bird on the planet. They measure approx. 2m and weigh up to 180Kg.
It is native to Africa and inhabits both the savanna and the desert. They do not need to drink water if they find food, which includes leaves and seeds as well as insects or mollusks. They live in herds and share a nest among all. It will be the alpha male who takes care of the young. The males are in charge of defending the herd.
Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae)
It is the second largest bird on the planet. They measure approx. 1.5m and weigh up to 80Kg.
The emu is native to Australia and is distributed over most of the territory. Maintains an omnivorous diet that includes seeds, fruits, plant shoots, excrement, and small animals. Its water needs are great: every day it drinks about 10 liters. During most of the year they live in small groups and they separate in pairs to mate.
Cassowary (casuarius casuarius)
It is the third largest bird on the planet. They measure approx 1.5m and weigh up to 80Kg.
The cassowary is native to Papua, P. New Guinea, and Australia. They are solitary and very aggressive birds that inhabit the tropical forest where they feed on fallen fruits, some fungi and small animals.
Together with the ostrich, it is considered the most dangerous bird in the world since it does not hesitate to attack to kill. The female is more dangerous than the male. She can mate with several males, building a nest with each of them. The male is the one who incubates the eggs and together they take care of the chicks.
Rhea (Rhea americana)
It is the fourth largest bird in the world. They measure approx. 1.3m and weigh up to 30Kg.
It is found exclusively in South America and typically inhabits the forests of the Pampas, usually in areas with tall grasses. They are omnivores that feed on both grass and small animals or seeds. There are 8 subspecies of this bird and they live in herds of up to 20 individuals. The male is the one who incubates the eggs and takes care of the chicks.
In 2000 six rheas escaped from a farm in Germany, managing to survive the winter in a habitat very similar to that of South America. These birds managed to establish themselves in the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern area and by October 2008 the population estimated by German scientists was around 100 individuals.
It is the smallest ratite of all, the size approx. of a common hen. It is endemic to New Zealand, where the giant Moa also inhabited. It is currently in serious danger of extinction due to the deterioration of the New Zealand ecosystem, mainly due to the introduction of foreign animal species. Kiwis are shy and nocturnal creatures with a highly developed sense of smell thanks to the existence of real whiskers around the beak; such whiskers are effective olfactory organs. Another generally unusual feature in a bird is the presence of nostrils at the tip of its long, sharp beak. They are omnivorous; to feed, they embed their beaks in the ground in search of worms, insects and other invertebrates. They also eat coconuts and, if the opportunity presents itself, small crayfish, amphibians, and eels.
† Extinct Ratites †
One of the largest birds that ever existed. The giant moas became extinct by the actions of humans, who hunted them for food. This group of birds had already disappeared from New Zealand in the year 1500. Reaching 3.7 m in height and weighing 280 kg. The moa had a natural predator: Haast's eagle. As the moa became extinct, so did Haast's eagle.
It is the largest bird that ever existed. Endemic to Madagascar, measuring more than 3 meters and weighing more than 500Kg. It was also extinguished by the actions of humans, who hunted them for food. With such formidable dimensions, it is not surprising that the elephant bird's eggs were equally gigantic. More than a foot in diameter, they weighed up to twelve kilos, containing nine liters in their interior and were equivalent to seven ostrich eggs, two hundred and twenty chicken eggs or 12,000 hummingbird eggs. Not even the eggs of the largest dinosaurs found to date reach the dimensions of the egg of an elephant bird, so we are surely talking about the largest egg laid by any animal in the history of the earth.
Endemic to Mauritius, it was the last ratite to become extinct. Humans arrived to its habitat in the 16th century. The Portuguese discoverers called it "dodo" ("stupid" in Portuguese colloquial speech) for its clumsiness and the ease with which it could be hunted (the dodo evolved without any contact with humans, so it did not see them as a threat). The last living specimen was seen in 1662.