|The emu is a very large, flightless bird that is
second in size only to the ostrich. It is a native of Australia and appears,
along with the kangaroo, on Australia's coat of arms. The emu has coarse,
shaggy plumage that is dark when new but gradually fades to a light brown
as the molting season approaches. This strange looking bird is closely related
to the other four flightless, ground dwelling birds – the kiwi, ostrich,
cassowary, and rhea. Collectively these birds are known as ratites.
Habits: The emu lives in small groups except during the breeding season. Occasionally several groups join to form a herd of several thousand. The emu stays in one place while the male incubates the eggs. But usually it wanders, traveling long distances in search of food. When food is plentiful, the emu builds up reserves of fat, which it uses when food is scarce. An emu normally weighs about 100 pounds, but it can still function at 45 pounds.
Emus need large amounts of water. They may drink from watering holes that ranch owners have made for their livestock. The emu’s fondness for seeds causes trouble with farmers, who may shoot birds that feed on their land. The emu is a nervous bird that is constantly on the alert for potential trouble.
Breeding: The emu mates in December and January. The male builds a shallow, bowl shaped nest under a bush or small tree. In April or May the female lays 9 to 11 large, dark green eggs. The male incubates the eggs, while the female leaves and may mate again and lay a second clutch of eggs. During this period the male does not eat or drink but lives off his fat reserves. The chicks hatch after eight weeks and can soon leave the nest. The male is very aggressive, driving away the female or humans who come too close. He guards the chicks for five to seven months.
Emu and Man: Until the late eighteenth century several kinds of emu lived in Australia, each on a separate island. Many were killed by early settlers for meat and for oil that could be extracted from the carcasses and used as medicine and in lamps. The emu population on the Australian mainland survived in spite of several government campaigns to reduce their numbers because of the damage they do to cereal crops. Now, man made watering holes for cattle and sheep provide the emu with a permanent supply of fresh water in places where there was no fresh water before.
Food and Feeding: The emu only eats foods that are rich in nutrients, such as seeds, fruit, and young shoots, as well as insects, lizards, and small rodents. It avoids grass and leaves even if they are all that is available. To help its stomach grind the food; the emu takes in pebbles with its food. These pebbles can weigh as much as two ounces each. The emu must also have access to fresh water. Because its diet is so nutritious, the emu grows quickly and reproduces in large numbers. It covers hundreds of miles searching for food after the supplies in one area have been exhausted.
Related Species: Related to other
flightless birds, including the ostrich and the kiwi.
Features of the Emu:
Did You Know: There is an old saying
in Australia that someone is “as stupid as an emu.”
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