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Ostrich Head Hiding

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How are they supposed to sleep like that, with no oxygen flow?

Peek-a-Boo, I can't see you,
Everything must be grand.
Boo-ka-Pee, they can't see me,
As long as I've got me head in the sand.
Peek-a-Boo, it may be true,
There's something in what you've said,
But we've got enough troubles in everyday life,
I just bury me head.
Flanders and Swann, "The Ostrich"

One of the most prevalent Animal Stereotypes is the ostrich burying its head underneath the sand whenever it is frightened. The implied message being that the bird so dumb that it has No Object Permanence problems. In other works he may be doing this while sleeping.

In reality, ostriches don't put their head underneath the sand. Such a scenario would leave them sitting ducks for predators, not to mention risking suffocation. Just like any other animal, they will run away whenever they assume danger. Logical too, seeing that they have long, strong legs that can run over 40 miles per hour, making it extremely difficult for predators to catch them (and if they are caught those same legs can deliver deadly kicks). When they sleep they just sit down on the ground like other birds do. The head burying in the sand image is likely a perception derived from humans watching the birds from a distance and seeing them reach their long necks down to the ground to search for food or to manage their nests.

Nevertheless this Urban Legend keeps popping up in comic strips and cartoons and has even become a metaphor for people too frightened to do something about an important problem or in deep denial about it. Instead of taking action they prefer sticking their heads under the ground and wait until the problem goes away by itself.

Sub-Trope of Artistic License Ornithology. See also Head-in-the-Sand Management and Safe Under Blankets.


    open/close all folders 

  • A Canadian commercial for Duracell batteries featured robot ostriches hiding their heads in the sand at the beginning of the ad.
  • A series of 1990s Russian adverts for Irn-Bru (no, honestly, it's a whole thing, apparently) featured blue and orange ostriches, who bury their heads in the sand, only for their heads to come out in Antarctica and steal cool Irn-Bru from penguins. In another one, the ostriches are themselves in Antarctica and have buried their Irn-Bru to keep it cool, so they duck into the snow to drink it.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Audrey the Ostrich from Ox Tales always has her head buried in the ground.

  • There is an old joke about a zoo having a sign near a cage saying "Please don't scare the ostriches. The floor is concrete."

    Comic Strips 
  • A 1930s Mickey Mouse comic strip had Mickey join a race to win money. As everybody was allowed to bring their own manner of transport Mickey used his pet ostrich to ride on. During the race the animal suddenly gets scared and sticks its head under the ground, so Mickey has think up a way to make the animal stop doing this.
  • Robert Crumb's final Fritz the Cat story shows Fritz dating an ostrich girlfriend who sticks her head underneath a bunch of pillows inside Fritz' house. He tries to get laid with her, but she refuses to move, so he kicks her in the behind and leaves. Out of revenge she murders him with an icepick in the head.
  • Boes, a Dutch comic strip on which Ox Tales is based: Ostriches hiding their head in the sand are a frequent gag.

    Films — Animated 
  • Spike does this in The Land Before Time when Littlefoot and Cera are fighting, and when the Gang sans Cera comes across Sharptooth for the last time.
  • Dumbo. During the Baby Mine segment the camera shows a shot of the circus animals taking a rest at night, including a mother (or father?) ostrich and her two baby birds, sticking their heads underneath the sand.
  • In Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, a mother Gastornis hides her head in the ground as she gets startled by a Tyrannosaurus rex. Her chick attempts to do the same, but the ground is too hard, so the chick knocks itself out.
  • Madagascar: After the reveal that they're in the wild and not San Diego, Melman (a giraffe) gets his head stuck in some kind of bush. When he finally shakes it off, the previous news finally sinks in and he smashes his head into the beach's sand.
  • In Scooby-Doo! and the Legend of the Vampire, Scooby and Shaggy do this to evade the wrath of an emu.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bedknobs and Broomsticks. During the soccer match the ostrich buries its head underneath the sand, but is kicked against his behind soon afterwards, causing him to tumble forwards and fall on its behind.
  • Bumblebee. Bumblebee does this on the beach, thinking it would hide him if other people are around. Yes, he honestly forgot to transform into vehicle mode.

  • Played for dark comedy in James Thurber's fable "Oliver and the Other Ostriches." Oliver attends an ostrich lecture where a leading ostrich tells them that they are superior to other species because they are intelligent enough to hide their heads. Oliver tries to comment that other species have good qualities too, but the ostriches will have none of it— and then they promptly get interrupted by an elephant stampede. All the ostriches are flattened except for Oliver, who is intelligent enough to run away.
  • Spoofed in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in which it is discussed that a good way to escape from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast Of Traal is to wrap your towel around your head, since the Beast is "such a mind-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you."

  • The Flanders and Swann song "The Ostrich": Flanders sings the chorus as the ostrich, determinedly sticking his head in the sand despite Swann's increasingly urgent warnings.
  • Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A has a song named "If It Ain't Ruff" where they make use of this stereotype.
    So whenever I'm steppin cover your head like an ostrich
  • The somewhat obscure song, "Alphabet Song" by the Tinseltown Players, which lists off one animal by every letter of the alphabet, mentions the ostrich, who "hides his head in the sand", playing the trope straight.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • The image of an ostrich hiding its head is used often in political cartoons, usually to portray politicians who hide from luring problems such as a crisis, recession, depression, complaints of the people or an enemy power rising.
    • Example: A 1941 political cartoon by Dr. Seuss (yes, that Dr. Seuss) portrayed American isolationists as ostriches with their heads buried, blissfully ignoring the impending war. He used this analogy frequently in his cartoons, such as one where the buried ostrich head chews at the roots of a tree labeled "American morale" and another where members of the America First party pass out ostrich hats.
  • The Far Side: One strip has an ostrich doing this, with a lion crouched next to him and peering down the head-hole. "I seeeeee you!"

    New Media 

  • In the Kaufman and Hart play Merrily We Roll Along, the grotesquely old-fashioned Mrs. Riley complains about the title of a play her daughter is starring in (in 1923, a time when, perhaps not coincidentally, fashionable women wore ostrich feathers), and her son-in-law tries to explain its significance:
    Mrs. Riley: What the hell was it all about, will you tell me that? What did the name mean? "The Ostrich." Wasn't a God-damn bird in it.
    Harry: Well, the whole idea is—people afraid to face things. Sticking your head in the sand.
    Mrs. Riley: Well, why didn't they come out and say so?

     Video Games  
  • The ostrich in Animal Jam Play Wild will do this if the play button is pressed.
  • The first boss of Ballz is Guggler, an ostrich who sticks his head in the ground to heal when you're far enough away.
  • No ostriches feature in Avian Attorney, but the Prime Minister of France describes the King as ostrichlike in his determination to ignore bad things.
  • Conkdors from Super Mario 3D World are ostrich-like enemies who attack by slamming their faces into the ground.


    Western Animation 
  • Dragons: Riders of Berk: Barf & Belch bury their heads in the beach when they get spooked by a thunderstorm. In the absence of the twins, Snotlout is the one who has to try and get them out. When pulling doesn't work, he digs his way in to confront them directly. They respond with Belch igniting Barf's flammable gas, launching Snotlout right out of their hole.
  • Silly Symphonies: In The China Shop, an ostrich figurine sticks its head into the base it is standing on when the Satyr starts throwing dishes. Its exposed legs and neck are promptly sliced through by a plate and it reassembles into a shorter bird.
  • Tex Avery's Slap Happy Lion has a lion roaring so loud that it scares off an ostrich, who sticks his head in the sand, then lifts the piece of ground head and all and runs off with it.
  • South Park. In Cartoon Wars the citizens are so frightened of Family Guy showing The Prophet Muhammad and the reactions this will create in the Muslim world that they decide to use the ostrich tactic by burying their heads underneath the sand.
  • Foghorn Leghorn: In "Mother Was a Rooster", Foghorn adopts a baby ostrich, who hides his head in the sand whenever Barnyard Dawg called him an "ugly chicken." When Foghorn and Dawg get their heads stuck in the ground in he end, the ostrich says "They left me all alone. Where did everybody go?"
  • Channel Umptee-3: Orson the ostrich lived his life with his head in the ground like the other ostriches. When he took it out and looked around, he saw that The World Is Just Awesome and decided to share it with everyone through a TV show.
  • Stanley: In "Honest Ostrich", Stanley feels he let Marci down when he can't find a soccer ball she let him borrow for a big game, and he wishes that he could hide his head in the sand like an ostrich and forget the whole day. Dennis points out to him that Ostriches don't really hide their heads in the sand, and after finding out the truth in the Great Big Book of Everything, he finds out that Ostriches really duck their heads in the grass to avoid being spotted by predators. So they tell the kids that one myth is not true, and replace it with a variant on the myth instead? Ostriches don't hide their heads in the grass either to hide from predators. As the description says, they run.
  • Penguins of Madagascar: One episode has an ostrich that gets her head stuck in quick-drying cement, alluding the "ostrich with its head in the ground" pose. This gets lampshaded by the characters, who point out how wrong this trope is.
  • The Lion Guard: Deconstructed. In "Bunga The Wise," Bunga tells an ostrich who's scared of hyenas to hide her head in the ground to avoid seeing them. When the rest of the Lion Guard see her doing this, they point out that ostriches don't actually do such a thing. After they help the ostrich to pull her stuck head out, she complains about how hard it is to breathe down there.
  • Kaeloo: In Episode 70, this is done by Quack Quack the duck (even though he's not an ostrich). Somehow, it works perfectly well and nobody can find him.
  • Babar: "The Show Must Go On" has ostrich ballet dancer Madamoiselle Soretoza, who would bury her head in a sandbox if things don't go her way.
  • Mike, Lu & Og: Invoked in a "back to the show" ad bumper; Wendell spooks an ostrich so it can bury its head in the sand, allowing him to pluck its plumage to use as Fluffy Fashion Feathers.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy: Parodied in an episode where, during a game of hide-and-seek, Rolf does this at an attempt to pick a good hiding spot.
  • House of Mouse: In "Donald's Pumbaa Prank", an ostrich ballerina hides her head in a cake when Pumbaa is about to make a gigantic fart.
  • Oggy and the Cockroaches: In "The Hungry Ostrich Empire", Jack brings an ostrich to Oggy's house for him to petsit. It sticks its head into the floorboards whenever someone tries to hurt it.
  • The Dick Tracy Show: In "Horse Race Chase," this is how Go-Go Gomez exposes the Brow and Oodles' plan to win a horse race by using an ostrich disguised as a horse. He frightens the ostrich which screeches to a stop (sending jockey Oodles flying off of it) and buries its head in the ground.
  • My Little Pony 'n Friends: In "The Golden Horseshoes, Part 1", when the ostrich-like Skree at scared by something, they respond by hiding their heads in the soil. This is more effective than most examples, however, as doing so also turns the Skree into visually unremarkable rocks.
  • Done by another bird in an U.S. Acres episode, namely the cowardly Wade Duck.

    Real Life 
  • Though real ostriches don't do this, there are a few small mammals that hide their heads in crevices when threatened, including solenodons and the rock-haunting ringtail possum. What adaptive function this serves is unknown. Notably, solenodons (which are only found on several islands in the Caribbean) are very vulnerable to introduced predators.


Video Example(s):


Olivia Ostrich

Olivia might be a smart bird, but that doesn't stop her from being a scaredy cat.

How well does it match the trope?

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Main / OstrichHeadHiding

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