Emus are endemic to Australia and are the second largest bird in the world after the ostrich. Adults vary in height from about 1.5 – 1.9m, females slightly larger and with a weight of 37kg reaching around 58kg during the breeding season - not something to argue with!
Indeed handling Emus needs great skill and timing. The emu farmer who moved the two from NAR for release recently, had a few scars from wrangling these huge birds in the past. The legs are very strong, featherless and mostly covered in scaly plates.
Each foot has three toes and each toe has a sharp claw and they will kick out for defence with great accuracy and power.
Most of their predators are long extinct like giant monitor lizards and other carnivores that once roamed Australia. Dingoes and eagles will still take them, especially younger more vulnerable individuals.
In WA emus have distinct migratory movements travelling north in the summer months and back southwards in winter. Elsewhere, and they occur widely across the country, their movements are considered more random.
Largely diurnal the birds graze on a wide range of fruits, grasses and seeds and also for protein on many insects and other arthropods such as millipedes, spiders, grasshoppers and no doubt anything that can be easily grabbed.
It is reported that usually the males grunt and females boom, no delicate song but the booming can be heard from up to 2km away. The sound is made with an inflatable throat pouch. I’ve heard it close up and its quite intimidating for sure. It is used to assert control over a territory, as part of mating ritual and a threat to rivals.
Emus pair up in the summer months of December and January and may stay together for 4/5 months mating between April and June in the coolest months.
The males construct a rather simple nest, often no more than a scrape in the ground. After mating some 5-15 eggs are laid and the male then takes up residence. During the 8 weeks of incubation he won’t leave the nest or eat, drink or defecate. He may lose a third of his body weight during the incubation period. Once they hatch the striped juveniles stay around the male for several months and as their stripes fade they start to become fully independent usually all moving away by 6 months of age. They are fully grown at around a year and can breed from around 20 months of age. They have a lifespan of up to 30 years.
Surprisingly Emus are farmed overseas in many countries, their oil, meat, leather and fats being quite sought after commodities. It is estimated around 1 million are farmed in the US, China and Peru.