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Emu

Updated on November 15, 2009

The emu is a flightless bird native to dry open areas of eastern Australia. It stands about 2 meters in height, it is second in size only to the ostrich. It may weigh nearly 120 pounds (54 kg), and its body is covered with brownish grey feathers tipped with black. Sparse neck feathers reveal the blue skin of the neck, which is darker in the females. The eyes are yellowish brown, and the bill is brown to black.

It has coarse, hairlike feathers; small, poorly developed wings; and a broad flat bill. Its legs are long and powerful, and the bird can run at a speed of almost 40 miles (64 km) per hour.

The long, dark legs have large, three-toed feet. Emus are good swimmers and fast runners and have been known to reach speeds of nearly 50 kph on land. To defend themselves, they can kick powerfully, and the toe can cause a severe gash.

Breeding

In summer, they form pairs and remain together for about five months. The hen lays a clutch of 7 to 12 dark-green eggs about 14 cm long, in a nest of trampled grasses, bark or leaves, or sometimes just a scraping in the ground; she then takes no further interest, and the male incubates the eggs until they hatch and rears the young.

The chicks are "furry", with broad black and white longitudinal stripes for camouflage..

When they are not breeding, emus gather in small flocks. At other times they go in pairs. Their diet consists of fruits, grasses, insects, leaves, flowers of native plants and sometimes cultivated crops.

Only one species of emu survives today. Three other species became extinct when Australia was being colonized. The fossil record shows that more kinds of emus existed 15,000 to 100,000 years ago.

The emu, Dromiceius novaehollandiae, is classified in the order Casuariiformes, family Dromiceiidae.

Habitat

Dry seasons cause emus to migrate, unless there are watercourses available. These journeys are sometimes over hundreds of kilometres and as they move south-west the emus invade wheat farms and trample the crops. In order to combat this, the Western Australian Government has erected long fences to deflect the birds

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Hunted

In Australia's early days, smaller species of emus were found on King Island and Kangaroo Island, but they were soon exterminated by settlers and sealers, who hunted them for food. All species were hunted by the Aborigines for food, and white men also valued their oil, which was regarded as a cure for rheumatism and a liniment for sprains and bruises in horses and cattle; the oil was also used in lamps and for lubricating locks and wheels. Emu eggs were eaten by early settlers and Aborigines; they were also either carved or painted and used as ornaments or as containers, such as sugar bowls and milk jugs.

Emus have long been regarded as pests because of the damage they do to fences and crops and because they compete with sheep and cattle on grazing land. In 1932, an 'emu war' was declared in Western Australia, and the birds were hunted by a military unit armed with machine guns. Fortunately, this failed to exterminate them, and they are still reasonably abundant. The emu is featured with the kangaroo on Australia's coat of arms and is also depicted on postage stamps.

References

  • Pears Cyclopaedia, Twenty-Ninth Edition, 1926.
  • The New International Illustrated Encyclopaedia, Volume 3, 1954. Page 31.
  • Merit Students Encyclopedia, Volume 6, P.F. Collier Inc, 1979. Page 348.
  • New Knowledge Library - Universal Reference Encyclopedia, Volume 10, Bay Books, 1981. Page 880.

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