What’s Lurking In Your Backyard? – #24 Emu

This series looks at the variety of fauna that may be found in the suburban backyard or local reserve and the diversity may be surprising to some people. The obvious fauna are the vast array of birds that are readily seen by day and some by night, but there are numerous species that are nocturnal. Some of these nocturnal species people are familiar with as they tramp across the roof at night with what sounds like hobnail boots on, or they hear fighting in the backyard over food and territory. Others are cryptic and may only be seen infrequently when they enter the house for warmth and shelter. Each week I will highlight a different species that may be found in and around Melbourne’s backyards, parks and reserves, some may be familiar others less so.

#24 Emu
(Dromaius novaehollandiae)

The Emu is Australia’s largest bird reaching a height of up to 1.9 metres and the second only to the Ostrich in size. The Emu is one of several flightless birds that can be found in Australia, others being the Cassowary, various penguins and the Lord Howe Island Woodhen to name a few.

The Emu can be found across Australia from the coast to the alpine regions but are rarely found in the very arid areas and rainforest. They can often be found in large flocks in sclerophyll forests and woodlands. Emu’s were exterminated from Tasmania by Europeans early after their arrival and two dwarf species from King and Kangaroo Island are also now extinct.

The Emu is covered by coarse grey-brown feathers from the neck down with the head and neck being naked with a bluish black skin colour. The long legs are also naked and have 3 large toes facing forward but lack a rear toe. These legs and toes are extremely powerful and are used to defend itself if required, lashing out with the toes which can easily inflict a serious injury. Emu’s can reach an average speed of 50k/h and can travel from 15-20 kilometres per day.

The diet of the Emu consists of seeds, fruits, growing shoots of plants, small animals and insects. When in close contact with humans they will also eat a variety of foods left behind by people including the wrappers of foodstuffs. These can pose problems for the animal.

The female Emu lays several large dark bluish-green eggs about the size of a softball over several days in a nest up to 2 metres wide made of thick layer of grass. Once the eggs have been laid the male undertakes the incubation of the eggs and nurturing of the newly hatched chicks. The newly hatched chicks are cream with brown strips, which slowly fade to the brown adult colour over the six months prior to their departure from the parent bird. Emu’s are considered adult at around 12 months and start breeding at around 20 months.

Although the urbanization of the coastal regions has resulted in dispersal of Emu’s away from habituated areas they are quite common in some rural areas having been advantaged by the increase in water supplied to stock. They have also been extensively utilised by humans for their meat, leather, oil, feathers and eggs.

© Habitat Ecology 2012

Emu

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