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World of Ratites (Flightless Birds)

This mysterious WORLD of flightless birds is represented by the Emu, considered the largest flightless bird with smallest wings.

Common Name:        Emu

Genus/Species:         Dromaius novaehollandiae


Australian mainland.

Natural Habitat:

Eucalypti forest, woodland, mallee, heartland and desert shrublands and sandplains.

Physical Appearance:

Physical appearance may slightly vary depending on geographic area. World's second largest living bird, 5 - 6 feet tall.  It is the largest flightless bird with the smallest wings. Sexes are similar, brown to black plumage, except during the egg-laying period when the female's head and neck which are normally naked and bluish in color, are densely covered with black feathers.  The body feathers form a loose, hair-like covering because the barbs of individual feathers do not interlock.  No uropygial (oil) gland.  Legs are long, unfeathered, with nine-foot stride when running.  Three-toed feet, the underside of each toe flattened with a broad pad.  Wings are very small.  In hot conditions, wings are held out from the side and the bare underarm with its blood vessels, is exposed to facilitate evaporative cooling. Bill is broad and soft, adapted for browsing and grazing. Guttural grunt and a throbbing drum (called booming), most commonly used by the male in the two to three months prior to egg-laying.  Female produces drumming sound towards end of incubation.  Both sexes drum when alarmed. Life span is up to 30 years in captivity.


Breeding season is usually May - August in Australia.  Most breeding units are a single pair.  Nest is a low platform of twigs or leaves, generally placed so that the bird has clear outlook, often downhill.  The Male does not begin incubation until 5 - 9 eggs are laid.  Clutches average 9 - 12 eggs, each weighing 1 to 1 ½ pounds.  The Male incubates the eggs for 8 weeks and hardly leaves the nest to eat or drink during this time. The young are precocial and leave the nest in 2 – 3 days, feeding extensively on vegetation and insects.  Males become very aggressive when the chicks hatch driving Females and other intruders away.  The young are cared for by the Male exclusively for about 5-7 months. Emu are of breeding age at 2-3 years old.

STATUS in Natural Habitat:

Diminishing to threatened and stable in its natural habitat.

Cool Fact:

Emus can run at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.


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