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Animal Species

Emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae)

The emu is the largest bird native to Australia and the only extant member of the genus Dromaius. It is the second-largest extant bird in the world by height, after its ratite relative, the ostrich. There are three subspecies of emus in Australia. The soft-feathered, brown, flightless birds reach up to 6.6 feet in height. They have long thin necks and legs. Emus can travel great distances at a fast, economical trot and, if necessary, can sprint at 31 mph. Their long legs allow them to take strides of up to 9 feet. Emus usually weigh between 79 and 88 pounds and their bodies are usually approximately 75 inches long. Emus are deep brown or grayish-brown in coloration, with barely visible wings. The mostly solitary birds have bluish-tinged necks and faces. These omnivores forage during the day hours, with diets that consist of bugs, tender shoots, foliage, seeds, caterpillars, flowers, fruit and tiny mammals. Emus also readily consume the stools of other animals. Not only are emus speedy runners, they're proficient swimmers too. They are curious birds who are known to follow and watch other animals and humans. Emus do not sleep continuously at night but in several short stints sitting down.

Emus occur in all Australian states except Tasmania. They can be found almost anywhere in the country except within urban areas, although they can be found on the outskirts of these areas. Emus range from coastal areas, where they are becoming increasingly rarer due to developments and roads, to the sub-Alpine regions. Therefore, they can take a range of temperatures from cool-temperate to hot-temperate. They are most common in New South Wales, in open scrubland and grasslands. They are also found in areas where agriculture has overtaken the natural habitat, particularly if there is a ready water source. They may also be found on the edge of wetland areas, but not within the wetlands. They are not found in open, sandy desert areas of Australia's central west, due to lack of shelter and the insufficient food source for such a large bird. They are not found in rainforest regions or closed forest. Unlike many of Australia's native creatures, the emu does need a ready supply of water, so emus are not found in the desert.

Emus eat primarily vegetation, supplemented with insects and other invertebrates. In the wild, emus are omnivorous. They prefer the parts of plants where nutrients are concentrated - young shoots, flowers, seeds and fruits. They also eat small vertebrates, such as lizards and insects. Wild emus avoid mature leaves and dry grasses, due to their low nutrient content, and will not eat them even when they are all that is available. Emus ingest pebbles and charcoal to help them digest their food. Captive emus are raised on a feed mixture optimized to encourage fast growth. This feed is often based on grains, such as ground corn and wheat, and may also include soybeans, alfalfa, fish meal and other ingredients that emus would not eat in the wild. Several types of commercial diet are available. Each is intended for a specific purpose - maintaining breeding emus, encouraging growth in meat birds, or feeding juveniles, for instance.

Breeding season is the southern summer. During December/January the emus will form breeding pairs, which may remain together for about five months. The male builds a rough nest from bark, grass, sticks and leaves. In the wild, a female will lay between 10 and 20 dark green eggs at intervals of 2-3 days. Farmed emus may produce as many as 25 - 40 eggs per season. The eggs are incubated by the male alone, which will not eat and drink while breeding. The downy chicks will normally hatch after 48 - 52 days. At hatching, they stand about 25 cm tall and have a longitudinally striped plumage which is gradually replaced by a dark grey-brown juvenile plumage. After 4-5 months the stripes are no longer visible.

Emu Fun Facts

  • Emus have two sets of eyelids, one for blinking and one to keep the dust out.
  • They have long feet with three toes on each foot and each of their feathers has a double shaft.
  • They run holding out their tiny wings hidden under the feathers to serve as stabilizers.
  • An emu can grow to between 5 to 6.5 feet in height and can weigh up to 130 lbs.
  • The sound made by males is similar to a pig’s grunt while females make loud booming sounds.
  • Emus require water every day. They use their lungs as evaporative coolers in hot weather.
  • In cool weather the multiple folds in the nasal passages are used to recycle air and create moisture for reuse.
  • These birds store large amounts of fat in their bodies and use these stores to survive when looking for more food.
  • Emus don't interact with one another except when mating.
  • Emus are solitary animals besides the chicks who will stay with their father for months.
  • On an average, females are somewhat larger and darker than males.

Did You Know?

  • The emu is part of a group of birds called ratites. Ratites are birds that do not fly.
  • The emu's oil is used to heal painful joints, muscle aches, and sprains.
  • The Emu, along with the Kangaroo, is featured on the Australian Coat Of Arms – these two animals were chosen for the honour because they can’t travel backwards and can only move forwards.

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