Class Aves

Order Casuariiformes

Family Dromaiidae

Genus Dromaius

Species novaehollandiae

Habitat & Range

Emus inhabit many environments ranging from savannah forests and grasslands to semi-arid lands.

All areas of Australia except the rainforests and areas cleared for agriculture. They are less common in deserts and the far north of Australia.

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Dromaius novaehollandiae

Like ostriches, emus cannot fly. Their tiny wings are only eight inches (20 cm) long and they lack flight feathers the breastbone, or keel, and the muscles needed for flight. However they have very strong legs for running and can reach speeds of 30-35 mph for short distances. They can walk considerable distances at a steady rate of four and a half mph. Their powerful leg muscles and talons are used for defense against predators.


  • Emus’ strong muscular legs allow them to leap into the air, thus protecting their heads and neck from attack. These same muscular legs allow them to defend themselves by kicking.
  • The hair-like nature of their feathers provides protection for solar radiation or sunburn.
  • Emus have a pouch in their throat that can be inflated as a part of their vocalizations.
  • These birds have stiff tail feathers that can be rattled to scare off predators like dingoes.

Physical Description

  • Emus are the second tallest flightless birds, only ostriches are larger. They range from 4.9 to 6.2 feet (1.5 to 1.9 meters) tall and may weigh from 66 to 121 pounds (30 to 55 kilograms).
  • These birds have long necks and muscled legs capable of carrying them at speeds to 30 miles (48 kilometers) per hour over distances.
  • They have 3 forward facing toes, but they have no backward facing toes.
  • Emu feathers start out black, but fade to a brownish color when exposed to sun. Unlike other birds, the emu follicles produce 2 feathers.  Their feathers have widely spaced barbs giving the feathers a loose hair-like appearance.
  • Males and females of this species look alike, however females are slightly larger than males.


What Does It Eat?

In the wild: These birds are omnivores (consume plant and animal matter) eating seeds, fruits, plant material, insects, and small animals.

At the zoo: Emus are fed gamebird grain, produce, alfalfa.

What Eats It?

Adult emus are relatively free of predation, dingoes or wedge-tailed eagles are their only natural predators.  Emus have also been hunted by humans for generations.

Social Organization

Emus are typically solitary birds, coming together in large flocks only when migrating in search of better food resources.  Males and females will bond and stay together during mating season.

Life Cycle

Breeding season will bring emus together, and pairs will stay together until the male begins to incubate the eggs.  At that point the female typically departs to potentially mate with other males and lay additional eggs in another male’s nest.  Male emus will incubate 5- 15 avocado colored eggs for approximately 48-56 days.  During incubation theses fathers never leave the nest and therefore may lose up to a third of their body weight.  At the end of the incubation, all of the eggs hatch within a short period.  Emu chicks are brown and white with horizontal stripes which help them blend into their environment.  These chicks will stay with their male for 5- 7 months, learning the necessary survival skills.   The chicks are fully grown at around 12 months, but do not mature sexually until around 18-20 months.  In the wild emus live 5-10 years, but in captivity they may live 35 years.

Collection Connection

Ralph can often be seen patrolling his habitat, just across from the Gates Center.  He was hatched 1/1/1997. He is known to be a very sweet bird and enjoys attention from his keepers and watching zoo guests.

Conservation Status

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Although emus compete with cattle for grassland and also destroy agriculture crops, they are not currently endangered. An effort to eradicate emus in the 1930’s resulted in the death of thousands of birds, but the species survived. To protect crops, an emu-proof fence was constructed along 600 miles of agricultural land to keep the emus out. These birds are not endangered and in fact have benefited from human activity in Australia. The establishment of watering stations for cattle and sheep has provided permanent watering holes also used by emus. So much of Australia is unoccupied or used as open rangeland that emus still have plenty of room to roam.

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