Scientific name: Dromaius novaehollandiae
Conservation Status: Least Concern

Appearance

emuThe emu is the second largest bird in the world, and the female emu is larger and heavier than the male. Emus have a long neck, a short sharp beak and very small ears. They have long feet with three toes. One of the toes on each foot is a talon which can be used for fighting. Emus have two sets of eyelids one which they use for blinking and one to keep out the dust. They have small wings which are virtually useless as emus can not fly.

Emus have a hairlike appearance to their feathers. Just like hair feathers grow from a follicle and birds usually have one feather per follicle, but emus grow a double shafted feather from each follicle. Also the barbs on the feathers are spaced further apart on emu feathers and the barbs hang loosely which gives the feathers their hairlike look. When the new feathers grow they are almost black, but the sun fades them to a grayish brown with only the tips and shafts staying black.

The height of an emu ranges from 1.5 to 1.9 metres (4.9 to 6.2 feet) and weigh around 30 to 55 kilograms (66 to 121 pounds).

Lifespan

The lifespan of the emu is between 10-20 years in the wild and up to 35 years in captivity.

Diet

Emus are omnivores which means that they eat all kinds of foods, both plants and animals. They will eat a wide variety of plants depending on the season along with beetles, grasshoppers, fruit, crickets, ladybirds, lizards, ants, flowers, berries and grubs. Emus have to eat stones and pebbles to help with their digestion of the plant material that they eat. Emus sometimes are not able to drink for a day or two because of the arid environment that they live in but when they do find water they drink large amounts.

They usually look for their food during the day, and while there is plenty of food about they will store large amounts of fat in their bodies that they can use to survive on while they are looking for more food.

Habitat

Emus are only found in Australia. They live in most habitats across Australia but are most commonly found in areas of savanna woodland and sclerophyll forest (a type of vegetation that has hard leaves and short distances between leaves along the stems) . They are very rarely found in rainforests or very arid areas.

Even though emus are sometimes farmed for their meat, oil and leather their population is not considered to be endangered or vulnerable. Although humans have impacted on some areas of  their habitat they have been able to move into other areas due to agricultural development and water provided for livestock letting them live in areas that would once have been to dry for them.

Reproduction

The male and female emus will start to form breeding pairs in summer and will stay together for about 5 months when they will begin to mate. The male emu will build a nest which is made out of leaves, twigs and grass on the ground for the female, who will then lay the eggs over several days. She can lay between about 5 and 20 eggs. Once the female has layed all the eggs she will wander off and may even find another emu to mate with, she can have up to three different clutches per season all with different mates. The male emu will then be left to incubate the eggs for the next eight weeks. During the time the male and female are together before breeding the male builds up food stores in his body and this is important because when he is incubating the eggs he does not eat, and only gets up to turn the eggs. During the incubation period the male emu will lose about one-third of his body weight.  Emu eggs are very large weighing about 450 to 650 grams (1 to 1.4 pounds) and meausring about 13 x 9 cms (5 x 3.5 inches). They are very thick shelled and dark green in colour, one egg is about the same as 10-12 chicken eggs put together.

When the chicks are hatched they can take care of themselves and can leave the nest within a few days although they stay with their father for up to 18 months, but they are fully grown by about a year as they grow very quickly. When they are born they stand about 12cms (5 in) tall and weigh about .5kg (18 oz). They are born with brown and cream stripes which help to camouflage them till their feathers come in, these stripes fade at about 3 months. The father teaches them how to find food and also defends them until they are able to do it for themselves.

Social life

Emus typically stay together in pairs or family groups consisting of the male and his offspring, but may form into large flocks when they are travelling to a food source. Emus can travel large distances to reach good feeding areas, sometimes even hundreds of kilometres. In Western Australia emus move following a seasonal pattern, going north in the summer and south in the winter.

Emus sleep during the night but do not sleep continously for the whole night, they can wake up several times during the night to either feed or go to the toilet. Emus sit down to sleep and it seems that this is also helpful to camouflage them as they look like a small hill when sleeping.  They sleep for about 7 hours each day.

Emus have a pouch in their throat that is used for communication. They inflate the pouch and this allows them to make drumming, grunting and booming sounds. These sounds are usually used during courtship and the breeding season and can be heard up to 2kms (1.2miles) away. They can also make a very loud hissing sound which is very effective at scaring off dingoes.

Quick facts

Emus like water and are good swimmers.

When it is running the emus stride can be about 2.7 metres (9 feet) long.

The emus legs are very strong and powerful and can even tear down metal wire fences.

They are very fast runners and can reach speeds about 48 km/h (30 mph).

They have a nail on their toe which is just like the blade of knife.

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