Largest bird inhabiting Australia (5.7 ft., 110-120 lb.). Flightless; wings are only 1/10th the length of its body. Brown in color; after molting, new feathers may appear nearly black, fading to pale brown with age. Bases of feathers are white. Each feather has two shafts, with barbs so widely spaced that they do not interlock to form firm vane as in most birds; they form a loose, hair-like body covering. Feathers growing near base of spine differ from those covering rest of bird; they have longer barbs and are set wide apart, giving appearance of a mop-like tail. Skin on head and neck often free of feathers and has a bluish tinge. Intensity of this color varies according to: (1) season of year; (2) changes in surroundings; and (3) behavior of nearby birds. Sexes are similar in plumage except for period prior to egg laying when female's head and neck are covered with black feathers. Weight of a female is 90 pounds. They have 3 toes; the underside of each toe is flattened with a broad pad. Two main calls: a gutteral grunt and a throbbing drum.
GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE AND HABITAT:
Found on the grassy plains and dry open forests of Australia.
Fruits, flowers, insects, seeds and green vegetation; love caterpillars. Ingest large stones into gizzard to aid grinding process. Need water daily.
LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:
Nest is a shallow depression next to a bush made with leaves, grass and bark. Usually breed in period from May through August. Male has several hens; he incubates eggs and raises young. Does not begin sitting until 5-9 eggs are laid. Hen lays 9-12 eggs, each weighing 1-1 1/2 pounds. Clutch exceeds 20 eggs in good season, numbers 4-5 in poor season. During 8 weeks incubation period, male does not drink, rarely eats, and loses 10-20 pounds. Eggs are dark green, almost black. Chicks are cream in color with brown longitudinal stripes and dark dots on head. Leave nest after 2-3 days. Male guards the chicks for up to 18 months. Chicks hatched away from father do not know how or what to eat. Life span is 5-10 years in the wild, longer in captivity.
Fast runner, can reach speeds of up to 40 mph for short bursts. Running bird can make a stride of nine feet. Expert swimmer. Bill is broad and soft, adapted for browsing and grazing. When food is abundant, large stores of fat are developed. They move great distances for food except when males are sitting on eggs.
The emu has been resident in Australia at least 80 million years.
STATUS IN WILD:
Widespread on the mainland of Australia and a growing population due to artificial watering points for cattle and sheep.