Status: No special status.
Size: Height 5 to 6 ft., weight 75 to 110 lbs.
Characteristics: Social, nomadic.
Offspring: Nine to eleven dark green eggs.
· The emu appears on Australia’s coat of arms.
· The name emu comes from the male’s call, which sounds like “e-moo.”
· Females are slightly larger than males.
· When food is abundant, emus store fat, which keeps them going through lean times.
· Emus are related to the kiwi, ostrich, rhea and cassowary—all these birds are flightless.
The emu is a large bird, second in size only to the ostrich. Although their wings are too small to enable them to fly, they’re very fast runners and are also capable swimmers. Their feathers are shaggy—almost fur-like in appearance. They mainly eat fruit, seeds, flowers, but also insects and small animals. They also eat pebbles and charcoal to help their food digest. Emus need to drink water on a daily basis, and they often walk great distances in order to find their food. After a rainfall, food is more abundant, so they usually follow the rain. Emus are peaceful, timid animals and they travel in flocks, except during mating season, when they pair off and settle down while incubating their eggs. A full-grown, agitated emu can kick hard enough to knock a man down, but they only lash out when threatened or cornered.
Emus are found throughout Australia, with the exception of rainforests. Although farmers in the west consider them a nuisance, eastern farmers welcome their appearance, as young emus especially eat large quantities of caterpillars and grasshoppers, while adults eat burrs that would otherwise become entangled in sheep wool. Although emus are widespread and are not in danger of extinction, two subspecies became extinct in the early 1800s—both the King Island emu and the Kangaroo Island emu disappeared due to excessive hunting practice by settlers.
Mating season lasts from December to January. A male and female form a close bond for the next few months and in April, just before the female lays her eggs, the male builds a large nest of grass and leaves on the ground. The male then sits on the eggs for the next two months, during which time he doesn’t eat or drink. The female may stay to defend the male and the nest, but most females are driven away by the males after the chicks hatch, if she hasn’t left on her own by then, though sometimes in captivity females remain with the males even after the chicks hatch. The chicks are over a foot tall at birth and have brown and white stripes. The male is fiercely protective of his chicks and keeps them from harm as he teaches them to fend for themselves for the next five to seven months. He follows the chicks as they run around, making sure they don’t get into trouble. Some males even adopt lost chicks from other broods, taking care of them along with their own offspring. By December of that year, the juveniles are old enough to go off on their own, and the male finds another mate at that time. The youngsters are fully mature by two years and begin families of their own. The lifespan of an emu in the wild is five to ten years, and up to 30 in captivity.