FYI logo

Get Your Head Out of the Sand!

Understanding the Idiom

By Denise Brandell MastrocolaPublished 3 years ago 3 min read
What's wrong with this picture?

Have you ever been told not to bury your head in the sand?

Where do you think this strange statement came from, and what do you suppose it means?

When someone tells you not to bury your head in the sand, they are usually implying that you are trying to avoid a topic or situation by ignoring it; and by telling you to get your head out of the sand they are advising you to face reality rather than hiding from it.

This phrase is an idiom which has been around for a long time. It has its origins in the idea that ostriches are not the brightest, and will bury their heads in the sand when they feel threatened. This is, however, a fallacy and I will tell you why.

The truth is: Ostriches do not actually bury their heads in the sand—or, at least not for the reasons people think.

According to the website, “This phrase refers to the common, but mistaken, belief that ostriches bury their heads in the sand when they are frightened, so as to avoid being seen.”

Have you ever played hide and seek with a small child? It is not uncommon for them to cover their eyes and hide in plain sight. Children have limited experience and because they lack an understanding of object permanence (see Piaget's 4 Stages of Cognitive Development) they honestly believe that if they cannot see you, then you cannot see them either.

Most of us have probably had this experience while looking after a child, so it is understandable that when people first encountered the odd spectacle of an ostrich with its head in the sand, this might be the mental picture it conjured up for them.

Ostriches are unlikely to stand still for long, however, so it can be difficult for an observer to get close enough to see what they are really doing. Unfortunately, the technology to get close up photos of the birds from a distance did not exist in earlier days, leading people to misunderstand their actions.

So, what are they doing when their heads disappear from view?

If you come across an ostrich with its head in the sand it is likely doing one of two things.

• 1. It may be eating. While reaching down to feed on the low growing plants, it may appear that its head is below ground. Also, like many other flightless birds, ostriches must ingest sand and gravel while eating and they will often dig into the ground to do this. This is because an ostrich has more than one stomach, and the grit from the sand and gravel goes into the bird’s second stomach where it is then used to grind and digest food.

• 2. It may be turning its eggs. The ostrich’s head may disappear for a while as they are turning their eggs. The ostrich lays its eggs in a shallow nest dug into the ground. It is important for them to turn the eggs several times a day, and from a distance it may appear that they are hiding their heads.

An ostrich can actually be pretty intimidating, and people and animals will want to think twice before getting too close to its powerful legs and sharp talons. Being the fastest birds on land, however, if they do feel threatened they need only run. Due to their size ostriches cannot fly, but they have long muscular legs and they can run at sustained speeds of approximately 30 miles an hour, and can do short sprints as fast as 45 miles an hour, and that is fast enough to outrun most predators that might come their way.

Another interesting, and uncommon thing about ostriches, and their eggs, is how the male and female take turns sitting on the nest. You might have noticed that the male has dark plumage and the female is a lighter beige color. Because her feathers blend well into the sandy landscape the female sits on the nest during the day. The male takes his turn at night when his dark feathers become the perfect cover to hide the nest and the cream colored eggs from predators.

So, with all this having been said, perhaps we should take the ostrich as our guide after all. Be bold, don't worry about what others think of you, run fast the race of life, and always do your part!


About the Creator

Denise Brandell Mastrocola

I am a writer and editor. I have certifications in Family, Marriage, and Human Relations and like to write both fiction and non-ficiton books and short stories.

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.