Species Survival Plan
Fruit, flowers, insects (esp. caterpillars), seeds, shoots, lizards and small rodents
Originally Native To
60 - 72 inches
Large bird with three-toed feet and sharp claws; featherless blue skin on the front of their necks and cheeks; hairy, hanging, barb-like plumage
9 - 12 eggs
December - August
Wild 5 - 10 years
Captivity 20 years
Live in pairs or a male with several females
The emu is the second-tallest living flightless bird. Its wings are tiny at less than eight inches long.
It is a prehistoric bird thought to have roamed the outback of Australia some 80 million years ago. The Aborigines looked upon emu as the core of their existence.
Emu provided them with food, clothing, shelter, and oil used in the treatment of muscle aches, sore joints, inflammation and swelling. Outlines of emu were chipped into rock faces, and emu movements are mimed in many Aboriginal dances.
However, they were heavily hunted by farmers because of damaged crops and the belief they competed with sheep for grass. The Australian government has protected the emu since the 1960s.
Emus are monogamous and their courtship is prolonged. The male lines a shallow depression next to a bush with leaves, grass, and bark to make a nest.
Before mating, the female makes dull, rattling, drum-like sounds. The female lays 9-12 dark green eggs weighing 1-1.5 pounds each.
During incubation, which lasts 56 days, the male doesn't eat, drink, or defecate. Once the male starts sitting, most females leave the territory, sometimes pairing with other males and laying further clutches.
A few stay to defend the male on the nest, using their loud, booming call. Males are aggressive when the chicks hatch, driving the remaining females away and attacking anything else that approaches the nest.
The male incubating the eggs is the case for most ratites aka large, flightless birds.
Chicks are cream-colored with brown stripes and dark dots on their heads. They leave the nest after 2-3 days.
The male teaches the chicks what to eat, how to eat, and where to find it. The male guards the chicks for 5-7 months. At 2-3 years of age, the young are fully mature and capable of reproduction.
Males sometimes make calls, which sound like "e-moo" and can be heard over long distances.
Emus eat the parts of plants that have the most-concentrated nutrients: seeds, fruits, flowers, and young shoots. They also eat insects and small vertebrates when they are easily available. They will not eat dry grasses or mature leaves.
Emus ingest large pebbles up to 1.6 ounces to help their gizzards grind up food. They also often eat charcoal.
The feathers have two identical shafts with the barbs so widely spaced that they do not interlock. This gives the emu a “shaggy dog” look.
The emu can run up to 31 mph by taking strides of more than nine feet. They defend themselves by kicking and ripping with their extremely powerful feet. Their long legs also help them be strong swimmers.
Emus must have daily access to fresh water. When food is abundant, an emu stores large amounts of fat and is able to use this while looking for more food.
Emus live in the Buffer Pasture - the second pasture you enter. There are also emus at the Children's Animal Center.
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As a private nonprofit corporation, Fossil Rim does not receive national or state government support. Every cent spent or donated here goes in some way, directly or indirectly, toward the care of our animals.