One can discover much about Australia's national bird when studying emu facts. The emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) is the second-largest living bird, reaching 6.2 feet; the only bird larger is the ostrich. Emu feathers also keep them cool amid the heat of arid Australia.
Additionally, did you know that male emus incubate their eggs? An emu egg can tip the scales at up to 1.5 pounds, making it one of the heaviest bird eggs in the world. During the incubation period of eight weeks, the males keep still and do not eat or drink.
For more from our feathered friends of all kinds, you might like to read our big list of bird facts next.
10 Emu Facts
1. Emus are the world's second-largest bird species.
Emus are native to Australia and are the country's largest native bird. They belong to the genus Dromaius within the bird family Dromaiidae. Their average height is six feet, and they are well-suited to survive the harsh outback. Their towering stature helps them spot predators from a distance, and their swift feet allow them to escape2.
Their evolutionary path turned emus into large flightless birds, giving them firm and muscular legs instead of wings, supporting their tall bodies, and allowing quick getaways. (They are the only birds with calf muscles.)
These flightless birds are classified into three subspecies: the mainland emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae novaehollandiae), the Tasmanian emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae diemenensis), now extinct, and the King Island emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae minor), also extinct.
Additionally, their short wings with fluffy feathers help them maintain balance and steer while running. Appropriately, emus also lay large eggs.
2. Emus are one of the world's fastest-running birds.
Surprisingly, the six-foot-tall emu is one of the fastest birds in the world, able to sprint up to 30 miles per hour, second only to the ostrich. Their specialized pelvic muscles allow them to maintain their pace without tiring.
Besides their speed, emus are agile runners. While sprinting, they can perform quick and agile maneuvers. Their agility and speed help them evade predators.
3. Emus are nomadic birds.
As nomadic birds, emus reside everywhere in Australia. They are highly adaptable and able to cover vast distances in search of food and water. Emus eat seeds, fruits, and flowers to maximize their nutrient intake. When emus forage, they use their long necks and sharp beaks to reach for fruit hanging from trees or dig into the earth for roots and tubers.
Moreover, emu migrations are not random. Instead, their innate sense of direction guides their journey through the vastness of Australia1.
Despite their nomadic lifestyle, emus put endurance over speed. Their muscular legs and lengthy strides enable them to traverse rugged terrain. Moreover, the birds' feathers are unique because they have a double shaft, which provides excellent insulation in the scorching Australian heat.
Moreover, these birds can survive for weeks without food, relying on stored body fat. However, they must drink water daily.
4. Emus have two pairs of eyelids.
One interesting fact about emus is that these robust birds have two sets of eyelids, which helps them survive their harsh environment.
Like humans, emus blink with their first set of eyelids, keeping their eyes moist and clean. Meanwhile, their semi-transparent second set of eyelids–or nictitating membranes–work like built-in goggles. They slide horizontally to keep dust and debris from the bird's eyes.
The emu's dual eyelid system is a remarkable example of how nature adapts its creatures to their habitats, enabling them to thrive in the wild.
5. Male emus dance to attract mates.
During the breeding season from December to March, male emus puff out their chests, stretch their necks, and flap their wings rhythmically. Additionally, the males emit deep, drum-like sounds, complementing their display. This behavior shows off their strength, dedication, and ability to nurture offspring.
A female emu chooses her partner based on the quality of the dance, looking for stamina, rhythm, and performance length. On the other hand, males repeat their performances until they have won a mate. Sometimes, the courtship dance becomes a test of endurance, leaving males exhausted.
Once a male emu has secured a mate, he becomes the primary caretaker. He incubates the eggs and provides their chicks with a safe and warm environment.
6. The male emu incubates the eggs and cares for the chicks.
Unlike other bird species, male emus assume complete responsibility for nurturing their young, from incubation to hatching. After the females lay eggs, the male incubates the eggs for around 56 days without consuming food or water or expelling waste. The male emu sits on the eggs and gently rolls them about ten times daily.
After the chicks hatch, the male protects the young emus from predators and provides warmth for nearly a year and a half.
7. Emu eggs are blue.
Emu eggs are blue due to the pigment biliverdin, which is also found in particular reptiles and birds. The intensity of the blue-green hue can also vary.
Moreover, the eggs' color allows them to blend in with the Australian landscape. Curiously, the egg is also blue on the inside. Further, emu eggs weigh nearly a pound.
8. Emus won the 1932 “Great Emu War.”
In November 1932, Western Australia saw a "war" between war veterans and a group of emus. A drought had affected the country that year, and humans saw emus as pests that invaded their farms and caused chaos.
As a result, the Australian government declared war on the emus. They put Major G.P.W. Meredith of the Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery in charge of the operation. The human troops had Lewis machine guns and 10,000 rounds of ammunition. However, the emus avoided the bullets by running in unpredictable patterns; their resilient bodies also helped them survive gunshot wounds.
Despite the soldiers' efforts and superior weaponry, the emus won the "Great Emu War." Today, emus live peacefully in the wild.
9. Emus is an Australian symbol.
Another emu fact is that the emu symbolizes Australia's resilience, endurance, and spirit. For centuries, Aboriginal Australians have revered the bird for its strength; emus feature heavily in their mythology. They hunt emus and use emu oil for medicinal purposes. Emu skins are also terrific for belts, shoes, wallets, and bags.
Moreover, the emu joins the kangaroo as a prominent part of Australia's coat of arms. Both animals can move forward, aligning with the country's forward-thinking vision. The emu also appears on Australian currency, state arms and crests, institutions, organizations, and sports teams.
10. Emu populations are thriving.
Despite being hunted in the past for emu meat, oil, and feathers, regulations and enforcement efforts have helped keep these Australian birds from dying out. For instance, people now run emu farms and practice emu farming. In return, the birds assist the farmers by eating the burrs that entangle sheep wool.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies emus as a species of "least concern." Every breeding season, female emus lay up to twenty blue eggs each breeding season, keeping the emu population growing.
We hope you enjoyed this list of interesting facts about emus!
Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with E.
Davies, S. J. J. F. (2002). Ratites and Tinamous: Tinamidae, Rheidae, Dromaiidae, Casuariidae, Apterygidae, Struthionidae. Oxford University Press, USA.
Davies, S. J. J. F. (2003). Emus. In M. Hutchins, D. Thoney, & P. Loiselle (Eds.), Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia (2nd ed., Vol. 8, pp. 75-77). Gale.