Emu: One Of The Biggest Birds
The emu, scientifically known as Dromaius novaehollandiae, is Australia’s largest endemic bird. From a physical and behavioral point of view, it resembles the ostrich, which is of African origin and larger.
The distribution of emu comprises almost all of the Australian territory, from the east coast to the most central regions, including the high snowy mountains. Its population, around 700,000 individuals, varies according to the seasons and these animals can travel around 25 kilometers a day.
Its preferred habitat are sclerophyllous and savanna forests, being rarely found in tropical forests. It is usually located close to a stagnant water source, a resource that conditions its migrations.
Previously, it also lived in Tasmania and two of its dwarf varieties were distributed on Kangaroos Island and King Island, but all are now extinct.
Emu morphology and behavior
This bird can reach 1.9 meters in height, although its average size is around 1.75 meters and 40 kg. Despite these dimensions, the forward-facing toes position, along with its long, muscular paws, allow it to run at a speed of 13.4 meters per second. Regarding the wings, which are vestigial and not very functional, the animal can beat them, but not fly.
The adult emu is covered in grayish-brown plumage, except for the legs, head and neck, which are covered by bare skin with a bluish black tinge. These colors can vary according to the environment, as, in addition to protecting against sunlight, they also contribute to its camouflage.
The breeding season begins in December, the month in which the male and female experience courtship, nest building and, finally, laying eggs. At first, it is the female who assumes a dominant position, but at the time of incubation, the male becomes territorial and aggressive, as he is the one who is responsible for the eggs.
Hatching occurs after 50 days and offspring weighing approximately 500 grams are born. Newborns will depend on their parents until they are seven months old. Later, they will leave the nest to restart the reproductive cycle at two years of age.
The emu’s diet is based primarily on fruits, seeds, sprouts, insects, and sometimes small animals and droppings. During periods of hunger, they can lose more than half their body mass without becoming ill, which is an advantage during male incubation processes.
Threats and state of conservation
The Australian dingo is the ultimate emu predator. Its attack strategy is based on distracting the incubating male for the subsequent attack on the nest. Therefore, the emu will make use of its height and powerful paws, giving kicks that can even kill its opponent.
In addition, hawks can also pose a threat to chicks and young emus. On the other hand, cases of death of emus due to the presence of internal parasites have been documented, among which pulmonary and cerebral nematodes stand out.
Regarding the role of this bird in ecosystems, its migratory patterns contribute to seed dispersal. Some of them have a protective coating that prevents them from sprouting unless they are digested and excreted.
However, the emu can also wreak havoc on cultivated land, hence the progressive barriers of more than two meters in height.
Currently, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers the degree of threat in relation to its conservation to be ‘little concern’. Even so, it is important to limit the possible anthropic impact on the species to avoid a future extinction, such as that which has already occurred in Tasmania.