Emu What is an Emu Bird?

Emu - Here's looking at kid

An emu is about 2m (6.5ft) tall, weighs about 60kg (132lb), and can run at 50kph (31mph). It looks like a large shaggy dog standing on two skinny, scaly legs. Staring down at you with its large red eyes, an adult emu can look quite intimidating. It is the tallest and fastest land bird in Australia. The emu is not aggressive and does not attack humans, but it is strong and powerful enough to cause hurt if provoked.

The emu cannot fly. It belongs to a group of flightless birds known as ratites. Its closest living relative is the cassowary.

The emu's scientific name is Dromaius novaehollandiae, which roughly translates to "fast runner from New Guinea"

• Emu Attack – Why, How & When

Emu Description What Does an Emu Look Like?

Photo: Emu with its tiny wings (in front of its leg)

Emus grow up to 2 meters tall and weigh as much as 60 kgs. It 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. Each emu also has its own unique hairstyle.

During the mating season, the skin on the female emu's neck turns blue.

Emu birds have relatively small soft slender, pointed beaks measuring about 6cm, specially adapted for picking up insects and small seeds.

Emu Sounds Video

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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.

What Does an Emu Sound Like?

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".

The structure of the emu's feathers is different from those of most birds. Most birds 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, shaggy, and 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.

Emu Running Video

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The emu has two long scaly legs. Each foot has three forward-facing toes with large pointed toenails. Small flattened pads on the underside of its toes to provide traction. The bird can also jump straight up to an astounding height of nearly 2 meters - it can jump as high as it is tall.

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.

• See an Emu Run

Emu Habitat Where Do Emus Live?

Emu Habitat Map

Emus live in open plains and forests with eucalypt, wattle and banksia plants with stiff, short and often spiky leaves. The only areas emus do not inhabit are the aridest parts of the Australian desert, rainforests and the island of Tasmania (The emu became extinct after European settlement in Tasmania).

Emus have benefited from animal husbandry by humans in the continent's interior. They are now frequently found around man-made watering ponds. Emus once also occupied the eastern seaboard of Australia, but recent human settlements displaced them.

While there is adequate food, emus will generally remain in a fixed location, but they are highly nomadic. They 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.

Emus 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 eat both plants and animals, but most of their diet is vegetation. They forage for food during the day, and their diet is dependent on the seasonal availability of food.

When available, emus eat fruits, seeds, grasses, and shoots of plants such as Acacia and Casuarina. They supplement their vegetarian diets with 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 swallow their food 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, consequently, 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. In this way, emus help propagate plants.

Emu Reproduction & Life Cycle Emu Eggs & 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 if they feel threatened or lose sight of their father.

Emu chicks have an impressive growth rate, as they multiply their body weight nearly 80 times in the first 18 months of life.

The male parent emu cares for his chicks for up to 18 months, and most survive to adulthood. They reach breeding age at 2 years of age. An emu has a lifespan of ten to twenty years in the wild and up to 35 years in captivity.

Emu Egg Art - Kalti Paarti

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 another direction. The emu can usually exhaust its predator before the predator can catch up with it.

Emu Conservation Status Is the Emu Endangered?

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.

How the Emu Got its Name What is a Male, Female and Baby Emu Called?

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

25 Emu Facts

  1. The emu is the largest and fastest land-bird in Australia.
  2. And the second tallest and the second fastest bird in the world.
  3. the Emu lives mainly in open plains and woodlands throughout Australia, except Tasmania.
  4. It can run at 50kph for long distances.
  5. An emu can also jump 2m straight up.
  6. Each emu has its own unique hairstyle.
  7. The emu cannot walk backwards because of the way its knee joints are constructed.
  8. It has only stubs for wings and cannot fly.
  9. It uses its stubby wings like rudders when running fast.
  10. The emu is the only bird with calf muscles.
  11. The Emu rattles its tail feathers to scare off predators.
  12. It makes a deep-throated hollow, drumming sound and grunts and hisses.
  13. It has two sets of eyelids, one for blinking and the other to keep out dust and dirt.
  14. The female emu's neck turns blue during the mating season.
  15. The emu's feathers are bifurcated- two feathers grow from the same shaft.
  16. As a result, its feather s are soft, shaggy and not waterproof like other birds.
  17. They are good swimmers and love to frolic in ponds and lakes.
  18. They shake water off their bodies like a dog does.
  19. Emus are omnivores but they are mostly vegetarian.
  20. Emus swallow their food whole.
  21. Emus drink water infrequently.
  22. An emu egg is 12 times larger than a chicken egg.
  23. The male incubates the eggs for about 60 days.
  24. He rarely leaves his nest and may lose up to 16% of its body weight during this time.
  25. Emus became extinct on the island of Tasmania, because humans killed them off.