Emu - Australia's Tallest Bird What is an Emu?
The emu is the tallest and fastest land bird in Australia. Standing on two skinny scaly legs, with a shaggy sheepdog-like plumage, an adult emu is about 2 meters tall. It has a small head and a tapering bluish-black featherless upper neck. It usually wears a hairstyle that is unique to each bird. The emu belongs to a group of flightless birds known as ratites. Its closest living relative is the cassowary.
Emu – Description & Appearance What Does an Emu Look Like?
Emus grow up to 2 meters tall and weigh as much as 60 kgs. The average adult male emu is about 1.4 meters in length and weighs about 50 kgs. The female adult is slightly larger than the male and has a larger rump. The female is about 1.5 meters in length and weighs about 55 kgs.
The adult emu has a small head with large red to orange coloured eyes with very good eyesight. It has two sets of eyelids, one for blinking and the other to keep out dust and dirt. During the mating season, the skin on the female emu's neck turns blue. These birds have relatively small soft slender, pointed beaks measuring about 6cm, specially adapted for picking up insects and small seeds.
The structure of the emu's feathers is different from those of most birds. Most birds that have a feather with a single shaft with smooth bristles and interconnected barbs (top photo). On the other hand, the emu's feathers are bifurcated, with two feathers growing from the same shaft with no interconnecting barbs. As a result, the emu's feather is soft and shaggy and also not as waterproof as other birds' feathers. Compared to its other feathers, which are soft and shaggy, the emu's tail feathers are rather stiff. The Emu rattles its tail feathers to scare off predators.
Being a ratite, the emu lacks a keel on the sternum (breast-bone) on which to anchor any flight muscles. As a consequence, an emu cannot fly. Although entirely flightless, it still has tiny, vestigial wings, each about the size of a human hand (20cm). The emu manipulates these tiny wings while running to control its balance and direction. When changing direction rapidly, the emu points one wing up and the other down, almost like a child "playing airplane".
25 Emu Facts
- The emu is the largest and fastest land-bird in Australia.
- It is the second tallest and the second fastest bird in the world.
- It is found throughout Australia.
- Emus became extinct on the island of Tasmania, because humans killed them off.
- It can run at 50kph for long distances.
- An emu can also jump 2m straight up.
- Each emu has its own unique hairstyle.
- The emu cannot walk backwards because of the way its knee joints are constructed.
- It has only stubs for wings and cannot fly.
- It uses its stubby wings like rudders when running fast.
- The emu is the only bird with calf muscles.
- The Emu rattles its tail feathers to scare off predators.
- It makes a deep-throated hollow, drumming sound and grunts and hisses.
- It has two sets of eyelids, one for blinking and the other to keep out dust and dirt.
- The female emu's neck turns blue during the mating season.
- The emu's feathers are bifurcated- two feathers grow from the same shaft.
- As a result, its feather s are soft, shaggy and not waterproof like other birds.
- They are good swimmers and love to frolic in ponds and lakes.
- They shake water off their bodies like a dog does.
- Emus are omnivores but they are mostly vegetarian.
- Emus swallow their food whole.
- Emus drink water infrequently.
- An emu egg is 12 times larger than a chicken egg.
- The male incubates the eggs for about 60 days.
- He rarely leaves his nest and may lose up to 16% of its body weight during this time.
Emu Running How Fast Can an Emu Run?
The emu has two long scaly legs. Each foot has three forward-facing toes with large pointed toenails. On the underside of the emu’s toes are small flattened pads to provide traction on rough terrain. The emu is the only bird with calf muscles (the muscle on the back of the lower leg). Since it has no need to perch and grasp like other birds, the emu has fewer bones and muscles in its legs than flying birds.
With this configuration, the emu is capable of running at speeds up to 50 km/h. At full pace, an emu's stride can be as long as 3 meters. It can travel long distances at this speed without tiring. The bird can also jump straight up to an astounding height of nearly 2 meters - it can jump as high as it is tall.
Emu - Habitat & Distribution Where Do Emus Live?
Emus can be found throughout mainland Australia. They are most common in Sclerophyll forests which have eucalypt, wattle and banksia plants with hard, short and often spiky leaves. The only areas they don’t occupy are the most arid parts of the Australian desert, rainforests and the island of Tasmania (After the arrival of European settlers the Emu became extinct in Tasmania).
Emus have benefited from animal husbandry by humans in the interior of the continent. They are now frequently found around man-made watering ponds. Emus once also occupied the eastern seaboard of Australia, but they were displaced by recent human settlement.
While there is adequate food, emus will generally remain in a fixed location, but they are highly nomadic and will migrate hundreds of kilometres at a rate of 15‐25 kilometres per day in search of food and water. While solitary animals, they usually travel in pairs.
These birds spend most of their day foraging, preening, resting and dust bathing. They are good swimmers and love to frolic in ponds and lakes.
Emu – Diet What do Emus Eat?
Emus are omnivores - they eat both animals and plants. Most of their diet, however, is vegetation. Emus forage for food during the day. Their diet is varied and is dependent on the seasonal availability of food. They eat fruits, seeds and shoots of plants such as Acacia, Casuarina, and grasses and sometimes eat wheat crops which makes them unpopular with farmers. They supplement their mainly vegetarian diets with practically any animal they can catch and swallow whole. These include insects, spiders, snails, millipedes, and small mammals. Emus don’t bite, chew or tear their food. Instead, they prefer to swallow it whole. They also swallow large pebbles to help their gizzard grind up their food. Emus drink infrequently but consume copious amounts of water when the opportunity arises, drinking between 9 to 18 litres daily. This high water requirement is because they use their lungs as evaporative coolers in hot weather and as a consequence exhale a lot of water vapour.
When food is plentiful, emus store large amounts of fat in their bodies. They use this fat reserve to survive in hard times and while the male emu is incubating eggs during which time it does not eat or drink but lives on its fat reserve instead.
Emu droppings are large and soft. They are important seed dispersal agents. Many seeds they eat are excreted in their droppings with their own little fertilizer supply helping to propagate plants.
Emu – Attack How an Emu Fights
The emu is a non-aggressive bird that would rather run away than confront an adversary. If threatened, it has several defensive tactics.
The emu’s first line of defence/attack, when threatened at close quarters, is to stand on tiptoes and pull itself up to its full height, puff up its neck feathers, open its mouth wide and dance about, giving out blood-curdling hisses and then charge at you pretending to attack. It will usually stop before actually coming in any physical contact. If this ruse doesn't work, then it will resort to its “plan b”.
The emu’s “plan b” at close quarters is a swift kick or two with its powerful legs armed with sharp claws. It the attacker is large the emu will kick forward with its feet. If the animal is smaller, the emu will jump up in the air and attempt to land its feet on top of the animal, preferably on its neck and head.
If attacked from above by a predator such as a wedge-tail eagle, the emu will run in a zigzag pattern. This tight evasive manoeuvre makes it very hard for its pursuer to follow.
Emu – Sounds What Does an Emu Sound Like?
Emus make different sounds depending on their gender. Adult males usually make a pig-like grunting sound, while adult females make a loud booming sound. Young birds make whistling sounds. Both sexes sometimes boom or grunt during threat displays or on encountering strange objects. The emu makes its deep guttural sounds by vibrating a 30cm long thin-walled tracheal pouch which is part of its windpipe. The female’s booming sounds, most prevalent during the mating season, consists of two forms. A high-intensity booming which is audible up to 2 kilometres away to attract mates and a low reverberating call to its partner which can be heard from more than 100 meters away. Both males and females also give out a blood-curdling hiss when feeling threatened.
Emu – Reproduction & Life Cycle Emu Babies
Emus usually pair up during summer and breed in winter. The male builds a rather basic nest which is a slight hollow in the ground lined with trampled bark, grass, sticks and leaves.
The female then usually lays 8 to 10 large shiny green eggs that look like avocados and weighing nearly 680 grams. (That’s the equivalent of about 12 chicken eggs). After she has laid her eggs, the female shows no further interest and wanders off, leaving the male to look after the brood. The male sits on the eggs for about 60 days and incubates them. During this time he rarely eats, drinks or leaves his nest. While he is incubating, his metabolism rate drops and he may lose as much as 8 kgs in weight.
A newly hatched Emu weighs about 500 grams and is small enough to fit in your cupped hand. Its body is covered with downy black and white striped feathers arranged in a squiggly pattern. This colouration helps break up the outline of the body when seen from above, so the chick is not easily spotted by predators.
Emu chicks follow their father everywhere whistling softly to each other eating tender plant shoots. The whistling becomes louder and high-pitched of they feel threatened or lose sight of their father.
The male cares for his chicks for up to 18 months, and most survive to adulthood. They reach breeding age at 2 years of age. They live for ten to twenty years and up to 35 years in captivity.
Emu – Predators and Threats What Kills Emus?
The emu did not have native ground-level predators until the introduction of animals by humans. Since then, it has dealt with ground-level predators such as dingoes, dogs, and feral cats by running away at top speed. While doing so, they raise one wing and lower the other and quickly swivel 180 degrees like a child "playing airplane" and scoots off, still at top speed in a different direction. Its four-legged pursuers cannot turn so rapidly and overshoot the emu going right past, as it heads off in an other direction. The emu can usually exhaust its predator before the predator can catch up with it.
There were once three types of emus in Australia, but the Tasmanian emu and King Island emu became extinct after the arrival of European settlers starting in 1788.
Wild emus today are protected by law. Harming them in any way is illegal. With an estimated population of between 650,000 to 750,000 wild emus in mainland Australia, their population is considered to be stable and is not under any threat. Furthermore, human agriculture in the Australian Outback may actually have contributed to an increase in the emu population because humans have dotted the landscape with numerous watering holes for sheep and cattle that emus use too.
There are also many emu farms where the birds are raised for their meat leather and oil.
The most likely entomology for the word "emu" is that it was an Arabic word that early Portuguese explorers adapted as "ema" to describe large birds such as the ostrich. The word was subsequently used by them to describe cassowaries they discovered in Indonesia and New Guinea. It was then used by other European explorers, such as the Dutch, to describe the bird we know today as the Emu.
A male emu is called a cock
A female emu is called a hen
A baby emu is called a chick
Scientific Name:Dromaius novaehollandiae (which roughly translates to "fast runner from New Guinea")
Emu egg carving became popular in the late 19th century when artists noticed the multiple layers of the emu's shell.
First, the egg is pierced at both ends, and the yolk is blown out. Pictures are then etched on the surface by scraping and carving away the outer layers of shell. The depth of the carving will not only create a three-dimensional effect but also influence the colours displayed. Shades of blue, blue-green, brown and grey will be exposed depending on what depth the shell is carved.