One of Australia’s icons, the Emu is the second largest bird in the world standing at 1.6 to 1.9 meters tall and weighing up to 55kg. They belong to the flightless bird family called ratites who are the oldest form of birds including Cassowaries, Ostriches and Rheas.
Their neck and head are mostly naked bluish-black, their body is covered with shaggy brown-grey feathers and although they have small sized wings, their legs are long and incredibly strong.
The birds are a prominent component of aboriginal storytelling and culture, as the inspiration behind many dances, creation stories and the subject of many features of astrological mythology.
Although the female dominates during breeding, once incubation begins she leaves the male, who whilst incubating the eggs won’t eat, drink or defecate for 55 days until the eggs hatch. Meanwhile, the female may find another mate and breed again.
Newly hatched chicks are nurtured by the male. The male and young walk together during the day as he teaches them how to find food, communicating with each other through a soft whistle sound.
Once they are able to feed themselves, the chicks leave their nest but will still remain together with the male for 4–6 months. Young emus can reproduce at 18 months old.
Habitat and Ecology
The first Emu sighting by Europeans in 1788 was in the now inner suburb of Sydney, Redfern, but today they seldom inhabit heavily populated regions.
Emus live throughout the continent from coastal regions to high up in the Snowy Mountains. Rarely found in rainforest or arid areas, Emus generally stick to sclerophyll forest and savanna woodlands.
As their main diet consists of fruit, seeds, shoots of plants and insects, emus play a vital role in seed dispersal within the varying ecosystems they inhabit.
The Great Emu War
On the 2nd November 1932 the famous Great Emu War broke out in Campion, Western Australia. An estimated 20,000 emus migrated from coastal regions to inland for breeding and food in the newly cultivated farmland in the area.
With crops being destroyed, farmers were furious, which led the military to travel to the area with guns and attempted to kill the population of birds in Campion. The emus however outsmarted the military, running and splitting into small groups making them difficult to target.
Only 6 days into the military operation, 2500 rounds of ammunition had been fired and yet the emu casualties were limited. Although the exact number is unclear, accounts of deceased emus range between 50 to 500 birds. It’s famously known that the emus won the war, and humiliated the military in the process.
Keeping the Emu Population Flourishing
Although their conservation status is listed as of ‘least concern’, with numbers in Australia between 625,000 to 725,000, the species may easily dwindle if appropriate protection is not established.
Adult Emus have few natural predators, aside from Dingoes and Wedge-tailed Eagles. Eggs and chicks are often eaten by feral dogs, pigs, eagles, foxes, snakes and goannas. The human population is a significant threat, globally farming the birds for their meat, leather and oil.
Emus face great danger from vehicle collisions, fences that trap and crush them and most notably, habitat loss and fragmentation.
Help Us Protect the Emu
The NSW Government’s plan to raise the Warragamba Dam wall by 17 meters would be detrimental for the population. Leading ecologists have said this development will drown habitat critical to the survival of the already small Emu group in the area.
The survival of the Emu, our native forests and our precious wildlife depend on people like you who share our love of nature.