"Big Bird! Australia's largest flightless bird"
He may not fly in the air but he can 'fly' across the ground
The Emu is Australia largest flightless bird.
The Australian Emu is the second largest living bird by height, after its relative, the African ostrich and is endemic to Australia. The emu's range covers most of mainland Australia, however the King Island emu and Tasmanian emu varieties became extinct after 1788 and the European settlement of Australia. The emu nevertheless features prominently in Australian Indigenous mythology.
Emus are soft-feathered, brown, flightless birds with long necks and legs, and can reach a height of up to 1.9 metres or just over six feet. They feed mostly on a variety of plants and insects, but have been known to go for weeks without eating. They can live in drier areas of the country well as they drink infrequently, however when they do they take on board large amounts of water. They thus can travel great distances across arid plains, and when necessary can reach a top speed of just over 50 kilometres per hour [30 mph] to escape from danger. They are very alert with the parents always on the lookout while their chicks hover around.
Breeding time is May and June and it is common for the females of the species to fight for a mate. The Female can mate several times resulting in several clutches of eggs being laid in the one season. However it is the male that does the incubating of the eggs during which he hardly drinks or eats thus losing quite a bit of his weight. The eggs though hatch at or after approximately eight weeks after which the young are then looked after by their fathers.
The chicks will grow to maturity after about just six months, but will geerally stay with the family until the next breeding season.
Interestingly the birds name, 'emu' comes from a Portuguese word 'ema', and it's meaning is 'large bird'. The male Emu stands between two and two and half meters tall and has long powerful legs. When running will reach speeds like 50 km per hour.
The Emu is a part of the Ratites family of birds which are the oldest of the flightless birds with flat breastbones. Ratites include ostriches, cassowaries and the New Zealand kiwis. The birds feathers are very light and abundant and cover there egg shaped body this allows the bird to cope with all changes in weather.
The Emus are very adapted to life in Australia and are able to survive in just about any environment. The bird prefers the open and remote places like the warm dry plains outback near Australia's centre. But you will find them in the tropical areas in the north, and around the colder climates down south.
Emus have long thin necks allowing the bird to produce deep grunting sounds. They eat a variety of foods, seeds, insects, grasshoppers are a favourite. They also eat fruits, plants, flowers and often graze on young grass.
When breeding and the female finds a partner, both will build the nest which consists of trodden grasses usually in open country. The female will lay between 5 and 20 dark green eggs. Once she has done her job laying the eggs she will often just walk off and join another group and find another mate leaving the male to incubates the eggs which goes on for about ten weeks. He remains until all the chicks hatch and father them for around two years.
The birds are unable to fly in times of danger, but they can run and when running at speed there stride can be as wide as 3 meters. When being attacked by predators they will run in a zigzag pattern, they are also know to left a leg and give a nasty kick.
Emus are now farmed for their meat, feathers, skin and is a very viable industry.
Photo Lyle Stacpoole