Emus are flightless birds from Australia.  They are the single extant member of the Dromaius Genus and the second tallest living bird behind the ostrich.  There were three subspecies from King Island, Kangaroo Island and Tasmania.  All of them went extinct between 1788 to 1850 during the European colonization of Australia.

The local Darug and Eora populaces of the Sydney basin refer to emus as birabayin or murawung.  The origin of the word emu is vague.  Some believe it is derived from the Arabic phrase for “large bird” that the Portuguese pioneers used to describe the cassowary in New Guinea and Australia.  Others say it stems from the Portuguese word ema, which translates to ostrich or crane.

The largest emus are over six feet tall.  They measure between fifty-five to sixty-five inches from the tail to the bill.  Males are a few inches smaller and are lighter than the ladies.  The birds are the fourth heaviest after two ostrich species and the cassowary.  The emperor penguin is the next heftiest bird after the emu.  Adults weigh in the range of forty to one hundred thirty pounds.  The average is within seventy to eighty pounds.

emu walk
Emu walk – Photo Credit: wiki

Emu Characteristics

Vestigial wings are tipped with a small claw.  Emus flap when they run to stabilize themselves at high speeds.  Toned pelvic muscles and long legs and necks allow the birds to reach speeds up to thirty miles per hour.  They have three toes and take strides over three feet when walking.  A full gallop can extend their step to nine feet.  Sharp claws on their toes are used for defense and offense.  The claw and toe are six inches long.  The bill is small and under two and a half inches.

Emus have terrific hearing and eyesight.  Their necks are blue and pale and sprinkled with feathers.  Brown and gray plumage is lined with black tips.  It is shaggy.  Solar radiation is drawn to the tips.  This allows the birds to be active during the day.  The plumage varies by location from environmental factors.  It provides natural camouflage.  Arid settings with red soil tend to tint the emu with yellow, orange and red.  Birds in damp habitats are colored in darker hues.  Females and males are similar in appearance.

The coast and inland of Australia is home to emus.  There are greater numbers in the savanna woodland and sclerophyll forests.  Areas that receive less than twenty-four inches of rain are less populated.  The birds travel in pairs.  Large flocks are rare and formed when migrating to new food sources.  Western emus travel north in the summer and south in the winter.  Their eastern counterparts wander in random patterns and without logic.

emu nest
Emu Nest – Photo Credit: IKAl


Foraging on native plant species is a large part of their diet.  Emus are diurnal and feast on various arthropods and insects for protein.  Crickets, grasshoppers, ladybirds, cockroaches, beetles, ants, millipedes, spiders and beetles are among their favorites.  Crops, fruits, wheat and caterpillars are consumed when accessible.  The birds are important for floral biodiversity and crucial seed distributors.  Sometimes the defecated seeds spread invasive species that upset the harmony of the ecosystem.  Local hunting campaigns are formed to offset the phenomenon.

Breeding pairs are formed during the summer months of January and December.  The two remain together for five months.  Both mates gain weight as they defend their territory.  Mating occurs between April and June depending on the climate.  The male builds a large nest against a flat surface with bark, sticks, leaves and grass.  The females proceed to court the boys.  Plumage changes and mating calls rebound against the landscape.  The lady birds are aggressive and will attempt to steal another’s partner.  The fight can last up to five hours before a victor is determined.

Five to fifteen large green colored eggs are laid per clutch.  The shell is thick.  The egg weighs up to one and a half pounds.  The male stops eating and protects the eggs during an eight-week incubation period.  Papa emu will rotate the eggs ten times a day.  He will lose one third of his body mass before they hatch.  The chicks are five inches and active.  The babies can leave the nest after a few days and are fully grown after six months.  The father serves as their protector.  Dingoes and eagles are the main predators.  Lizards, foxes, dogs and feral pigs will steal emu eggs and eat small chicks on occasion.  Captive emus can live over ten years.  Upwards of seven hundred thousand live in the wild today.

baby emu
Baby emus with their parents – Photo Credit: cafuego

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Casuariiformes
Family: Casuariidae
Genus: Dromaius
Species:D. novaehollandiae

Emu  Subspecies

Dromaius novaehollandiae baudinianus Dwarf of Kangaroo Island emu (Kangaroo Island Australia) – Extinct
Dromaius novaehollandiae minor King Island emu (King Island Australia) – Extinct
Dromaius novaehollandiae diemenensis Tasmanian emu (Tasmania Australia) – Extinct
Dromaius novaehollandiae novaehollandiae Emu (Australia)
Emu – Photo Credit: Mathias Appel

2 comments on “Emu

  1. Alisa Fernez

    Wow! I just learned a lot! Not a bad way to start a new week. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

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