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Ostrich vs. Nandu — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Urooj Arif — Updated on March 26, 2024
Ostriches are large flightless birds native to Africa, known for their speed and large eggs, while nandus, or rheas, are South American birds, smaller than ostriches but also flightless and fast runners.
Ostrich vs. Nandu — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Ostrich and Nandu


Key Differences

Ostriches, belonging to the genus Struthio, are the world's largest birds, native exclusively to various African landscapes. They are renowned for their remarkable speed, capable of running up to 70 km/h (43 mph), making them the fastest birds on land. In contrast, nandus, or rheas, which belong to the genus Rhea, are native to South America. Although smaller than ostriches, nandus share the characteristic of being flightless. They have adapted to a variety of South American ecosystems, from arid regions to open grasslands.
Ostriches are distinguished by their unique feathering, with males typically sporting black and white plumage, which is used in mating displays, while females are generally brownish-gray. This coloration provides camouflage in their natural habitat. Ostriches have two toes on each foot, with the large nail on the main toe resembling a hoof, further aiding their running ability. Nandus, on the other hand, have gray or brown plumage that also serves as camouflage, but they feature three toes on each foot, a difference that provides them with stability on different terrains, including the marshy areas some species inhabit.
In terms of social behavior, ostriches can be found in groups that vary in size from pairs to flocks of more than fifty birds, especially during the breeding season. They have a complex mating ritual involving the male's display to attract females. Nandus are also known for their social behavior, often forming mixed flocks with other species for grazing. They have a unique approach to child-rearing, with the males incubating the eggs and raising the young alone, a significant difference from the shared parental responsibilities seen in ostriches.
Regarding diet, both ostriches and nandus are omnivores, with a diet consisting mainly of plant matter, supplemented by insects and other small creatures. However, ostriches have been observed to consume larger quantities of sand and pebbles to aid digestion, a behavior less commonly noted in nandus.
The conservation status of ostriches varies by subspecies, with some being listed as least concern and others facing threats from habitat loss and hunting. Nandus, similarly, face threats from habitat conversion and hunting, with conservation efforts in place to protect their populations and habitats. Both birds play crucial roles in their respective ecosystems, contributing to the biodiversity and ecological balance of their natural environments.

Comparison Chart

Scientific Name

Struthio camelus
Rhea genus


World's largest bird, up to 9 ft tall.
Smaller than ostrich, up to 5.6 ft tall.


Up to 70 km/h (43 mph).
Fast runners, but slower than ostriches.


Native to Africa.
Native to South America.


Lays the largest eggs of any living land animal.
Lays large eggs, but smaller than ostrich eggs.


Males have black and white plumage; females are brownish-gray.
Generally gray or brown for camouflage.


Two toes on each foot.
Three toes on each foot.

Social Behavior

Forms large flocks; complex mating rituals.
Forms mixed flocks; males solely raise young.


Omnivorous, consumes more sand and pebbles.
Omnivorous, less likely to consume pebbles.

Conservation Status

Varies by subspecies; some threatened.
Faces habitat and hunting pressures.

Compare with Definitions


Largest bird, native to Africa.
The ostrich is often sought after for its feathers and eggs.


Adapted to varied ecosystems.
The Greater Rhea adapts well to both grasslands and arid regions.


Capable of high speeds.
An ostrich can outrun most predators on the savannah.


Male parental care.
Nandu males fiercely protect their nests and raise the chicks alone.


Unique social structures.
Male ostriches perform elaborate dances to attract mates.


South American flightless bird.
Nandus are often seen grazing alongside guanacos.


Conservation varies.
The Somali ostrich is considered vulnerable due to habitat loss.


Three-toed feet for stability.
Nandu tracks can be distinguished by their three-toe pattern.


Diet includes sand for digestion.
Ostriches ingest pebbles to help grind up their food in their gizzard.


Faces environmental threats.
Overgrazing and farming threaten the nandu's natural habitats.


Struthio is a genus of birds in the order Struthioniformes, whose members are the ostriches. It is part of the infra-class Palaeognathae, a diverse group of flightless birds also known as ratites that includes the emus, rheas, and kiwis.


Any of the rheas: the large, flightless birds of the three species of South American ratites of the genus Rhea (Brisson, 1760), which is also known by its junior synonym Pterocnemia (Gray, 1871).


Either of two large, swift-running flightless birds (Struthio camelus or S. molybdophanes) of Africa, characterized by a long bare neck, small head, and two-toed feet. Ostriches are the largest living birds.


Smaller of two tall fast-running flightless birds similar to ostriches but three-toed; found from Peru to Strait of Magellan


A rhea.


One who tries to avoid disagreeable situations by refusing to face them.


(ornithology) A large flightless bird of the genus Struthio.


The most widespread species of the genus, known as the common ostrich (Struthio camelus).


(figurative) One who buries one's head in the sand instead of acknowledging problems.


(golf) The hypothetical completion of a hole five strokes under par (a quintuple birdie, quadruple eagle, triple albatross, or double condor).


A person who refuses to face reality or recognize the truth (a reference to the popular notion that the ostrich hides from danger by burying its head in the sand)


Fast-running African flightless bird with two-toed feet; largest living bird

Common Curiosities

Can ostriches and nandus fly?

No, both ostriches and nandus are flightless birds, adapted instead for running at high speeds.

Why do male nandus raise the young alone?

Male nandus incubate the eggs and raise the young as a strategy to maximize the survival rate of their offspring, a unique aspect of their reproductive behavior.

What is the primary difference between an ostrich and a nandu?

The primary difference is their native habitat (Africa for ostriches, South America for nandus) and size, with ostriches being the larger of the two.

What do ostriches eat?

Ostriches are omnivores, primarily eating plant matter, insects, and small vertebrates, and they also ingest sand and pebbles to aid digestion.

How are ostriches and nandus adapted to their environments?

Ostriches have long legs and specialized toes for speed across African savannas, while nandus have three-toed feet for stability in diverse South American landscapes.

What are the conservation statuses of these birds?

The conservation status varies by species and region, with some ostrich subspecies being of concern due to habitat loss, while nandus are threatened by habitat conversion and hunting.

What role do these birds play in their ecosystems?

Ostriches and nandus play significant roles in seed dispersal and are key prey species, contributing to the biodiversity and balance of their ecosystems.

What is the lifespan of an ostrich compared to a nandu?

Ostriches can live up to 40-45 years in captivity, while nandus have a slightly shorter lifespan, typically around 20-25 years.

How do the mating rituals of ostriches and nandus differ?

Ostrich males perform elaborate mating dances and display their feathers to attract females, whereas nandu males build nests to attract females and then incubate the eggs and raise the chicks on their own.

Why do ostriches ingest pebbles?

Ostriches ingest pebbles to aid in the mechanical digestion of their food, as the pebbles help grind up tough plant material in their gizzard.

How do ostriches protect themselves from predators?

Ostriches use their speed to escape predators and can deliver powerful kicks with their strong legs as a last resort defense.

Can ostriches and nandus be domesticated?

Both birds have been domesticated to some extent for farming, particularly for their meat, feathers, and in the case of ostriches, leather.

Can both ostriches and nandus swim?

While not common swimmers, both species are capable of swimming if necessary, but they are much better adapted to life on land.

How do humans impact the survival of ostriches and nandus?

Humans impact these species through habitat destruction, hunting, and in some areas, farming. Conservation efforts are essential for their protection and survival.

Are nandus social birds?

Yes, nandus are social birds, often found in flocks that can include other species, and males are particularly social when it comes to rearing their young.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Urooj Arif
Urooj is a skilled content writer at Ask Difference, known for her exceptional ability to simplify complex topics into engaging and informative content. With a passion for research and a flair for clear, concise writing, she consistently delivers articles that resonate with our diverse audience.
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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