Conservation Education and Science
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SCIENTIFIC NAME: Dromaius novaehollandiae
ORDER: Casuariiformes
FAMILY: Dromaiidae
RANGE: Australia
HABITAT: Open areas from woodland to desert
DIET: Seeds, fruits, insects, rodents and lizards

The emu is a huge, flightless bird with a long neck and long, powerful legs, with three large toes on each foot. The long, shaggy plumage is grizzled grayish brown with short, black feathers on the head and neck. Bare blue skin occurs on the face and throat. Small, six-inch wings are hidden under feathers.

Standing about six feet tall, the emu weighs 65-to-100 pounds, second in size only to the ostrich. Vocalizations include hisses and grunts by the male and resonant booming sounds by the female. Locomotion includes running with a bouncy, swaying motion. The emu lives in small nomadic groups outside the breeding season. Sometimes several groups join to form a flock of several thousand birds. Their fondness for seeds causes conflict with farmers.

The nest, made by the male, is a simple depression in the ground, lined with leaves and grass. The female lays nine-to-11 large, green eggs, which are incubated by the male for 57 days. The female leaves, may mate again and lay a second clutch of eggs. During incubation, the male does not eat or drink, but lives off his fat reserves. The white, downy chicks have dark stripes along the back and flanks, and spots on the head. The male guards the chicks for five-to-seven months.

The emu is closely related to other flightless birds: the ostrich, cassowary and rhea, collectively known as ratites. In warm weather, Zookeepers keep the emus cool by using a sprinkler, or giving the birds a bath with the water hose. The birds squat down, spread their small wings and sway from side to side in the spray. The emu appears, along with the kangaroo, on Australia’s coat of arms.