The Emu is a large native Australian bird that cannot fly. It is similar in appearance to the Ostrich, which also cannot fly; in fact, the Emu is in the same family as the African Ostrich and the South American Rhea. They have grey-brown feathers, a pale-blue neck and face, long powerful legs and three toes (ostrich's only have two!). Emus are the world's third largest living bird. Only the Ostrich and Cassowary are slightly larger.
Emus live in small mobs and feast on a simple diet of grasses, seeds, fruit, flowers and small insects. They drink water regularly, at least once a day in winter and twice a day in summer and sometimes drink up to four gallons a day. Therefore they can usually be found within walking distance of water. When drinking they can take up to 70 mouthfuls of water and they lift their head after each one. They prefer flat country where there is enough rain each year to fill the waterholes, but will move into desert areas after the rain.
Emus have survived over 80 million years in the deserts, forests and plains of Australia. There used to be three species of Emu, but two became extinct after European settlers came to Australia.
Emus can be found in most areas of Australia, except for the East coast.
An average adult male Emu is between 1.5-2 metres tall, and weighs between 35 and 50 kilograms. The female Emu is even larger but they have a life span of only six years. Because the Emu has strong, long legs, they are a very fast running bird and can run up to 60 kilometres an hour over short distances, while their stride is about 3 metres long. They also use their legs to kick at animals or humans that try to attack.
Emus mate when they are about eighteen months old. The female lays between five and fifteen eggs that weigh up to one kilogram each. She will usually lay them on trampled grass or in a hollow in the ground. She leaves the eggs in the care of the male Emu, while she often finds another mate and lays another set of eggs.
Meanwhile male Emu builds up the nest, which can be up to two metres wide, from leaves, grass and bark. The eggs are dark green in colour and are sometimes collected by people as display pieces. Animals such as foxes, dingoes, eagles and even lizards will also seek out the eggs as a food source.
The male incubates the eggs for a period of seven to eight weeks, turning the eggs over once a day, and does not leave the nest during this time. If the female approaches the eggs, the male chases her away. Female Emus have been known to kill their chicks.
When the eggs hatch, the male Emu cares for the striped chicks for up to six months. The chicks can walk within twenty-four hours of being hatched. The female Emu does not care for the eggs nor does she care for the chicks.
Emus moved farther away in the country when the settlers built towns and farms, and when foxes and cats were introduced into Australia they attacked and killed many emus. In the 1930's in Western Australia teams of army machine-gunners killed many Emus in an effort to maintain the farmers’ valuable wheat crops. Despite this, Emu numbers managed to thrive, and there is currently a healthy Emu population in Australia, with more emus now than there were 200 years ago. Farmers today are allowed to breed and raise Emus for meat, leather, and oil. Emu oil is used in the treatment of muscle and joint pains, such as arthritis, and also in cosmetics.
The Emu, along with the Kangaroo, is featured on the Australian Coat Of Arms – these 2 animals were chosen for the honour because they can’t travel backwards and can only move forwards. The Coat of Arms also appears on the Australian 50 cent coin.
Height: 1.5 - 2 m
Weight: 35 - 50 kg
Survival Status: Secure (No foreseeable threat)