Emu Bird facts
Emu is the common name for our large but flightless and tallest Australian native bird.
The scientific name is Dromaius novaehollandiae.
Emus reach between 1.6 m and 1.9 m when standing erect. Adult Emus are characterized by long legs with three-toed feet, stout body, small vestigial wings, brown to gray-brown shaggy plumage, and black-tipped feathers with black shafts, except for the neck and head, which are largely naked and bluish-black. The wings are greatly reduced, but the legs are long and powerful. Each foot has three forward-facing toes and no hind toe.
The Emu is the largest bird native to Australia and the second-largest bird in the world by height, after its ratite relative, the ostrich.
Opportunities to View:
Most people see Emus along roadsides, near fences or other barriers, giving the impression of close association. However, Emus are not really social, except for young birds, which stay with their father.
The Emu (30-45 kg) is lighter than its closest living relative, the Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) but is taller and less heavy set in appearance. It is also much more widely distributed throughout Australia.
The Emu is found only in Australia. It lives throughout most of the continent, ranging from coastal regions to high in the Snowy Mountains. Emus were once found in Tasmania, but were exterminated soon after Europeans arrived. Two dwarf species of emus that lived on Kangaroo Island and King Island also became extinct.
The main habitats of the Emu are sclerophyll forest and savanna woodland. These birds are rarely found in rainforest or very arid areas.
Emus move within their range according to climatic conditions. If sufficient food and water are present, these birds will reside in one area. Where these resources are more variable, Emus move as needed to find suitable conditions. They are known to move hundreds of kilometres, sometimes at rates of 15 km to 25 km per day.
Emus eat fruits, seeds, growing shoots of plants, insects, other small animals, and animal droppings.
Nesting takes place in winter. The male and female remain together for about five months, which includes courtship, nest building and egg-laying. The nest consists of a platform of grass on the ground, about 10 cm thick and 1 m – 2 m in diameter. The large eggs (130 mm x 90 mm) are laid at intervals of two to four days. These are dark bluish-green when fresh, becoming lighter with exposure to the sun. The shells are thick, with paler green and white layers under the dark outer layer. The female dominates the male during pair formation but once incubation begins, the male becomes aggressive to other Emus, including his mate. The female wanders away and leaves the male to perform all the incubation. Sometimes she will find another mate and breed again. The male incubates the eggs without drinking, feeding, defecating or leaving the nest. During this time, eggs often roll out of the nest and are pulled back in by the male.
Newly hatched chicks are cream-coloured with dark brown stripes. They leave the nest when they are able to feed themselves. Young birds stay close together and remain with the male for four months. They finally leave at about six months. During this period, the stripes fade and the downy plumage is replaced by dull brown feathers. Emus are nearly fully grown at one year, and may breed at 20 months. Sometimes eggs that have not hatched remain in the nest after the male and young have left and become sun-bleached. Bleaching takes about three months.
There are few natural predators of adult emus living in Australia. Predators are more likely to eat emu eggs or emu chicks. Wedgetail Eagles, Goannas, Dingoes and the Buzzard are the animals and birds that pose the greatest threat to survival for Emus.
Emus have a long history with the tradition, people and culture of First Australians. They are featured in numerous mythological stories by Aboriginal people. The “Dinewan” is the name for Emu by some clans in NSW. The Dinewan is in a story by Naiura from “Tales of my Grandmother’s Dreamtime” 2002.
Emus are inquisitive and curious creatures. In certain circumstances emus may approach people to investigate them. It is important to remember when traveling in Australia that as wild animals emus may be dangerous and should not be approached in the wild.
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