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emu

Emu

The emu is Australia's largest bird. It does not fly, although it does have tiny wings.

The wings help the bird cool itself in hot weather. The emu is quite common and is found all over Australia, though fewer live in desert areas.

Emu females are generally larger than the males. The females weigh about 40 kilograms, the males about 36 kg. Emus can run at speeds of up to 50 km per hour.

Emu feathers are brown, and grow in pairs with two shafts joined at the base. The barbs coming out of the shafts are separate, not joined together as they are in the feathers of birds that fly. This means that the bird looks more like it is covered in hair than in feathers. Emu necks are often without feathers, and the skin is bluish.

Emus have long legs, with three large toes. Their beaks are wide and soft, for grazing grass and browsing in bushes. They eat fruits, flowers, insects, seeds and green plants. Birds have a part of their body called a gizzard. The food they swallow goes into the gizzard to be ground up so that it can be digested. Emus swallow quite large stones to help grind up the food in their gizzard.

Emu Facts

Emus make grunting noises and also a deep drumming sound.
Emus live all over Australia.
Emus are birds but they can't fly
Emus are covered with feathers.
Emus eat grass, fruits, flowers, seeds and insects.

In drier seasons when food sources are concentrated, emu groups congregate for the best pickings. It has been said that emus know where the rain has fallen and will head that way for a feed.

Emus generally find partners in summer, December-January, and breed in the winter months, May-August. If conditions are bad, such as a severe drought, emus may not breed at all, or the female may only lay a few eggs. In excellent conditions she may lay a larger than usual clutch of eggs. The large green eggs are laid gradually over several days, usually 5-9. The male then sits on the eggs for 8 weeks until they hatch. He hardly leaves the nest, and does not eat much during this time. The chicks are cream coloured, with dark stripes running from head to tail.

The chicks stay with the male for about 18 months. He misses the next breeding season. The female does not stay with the eggs or chicks. She needs to regain her energy so that she is ready to breed in the next season with a different male.

Why emus don't fly?

Birds that don't fly have a different breastbone (sternum) to birds that do fly. The sternum of flying birds is like a keel while emus have a a raft-shape breastbone. Emus are in the group of flightless birds called ratites. Ratites do have wings but they are not used for flying. Emu wings are about the size of a hand and are useful in hot weather: they hold them out from their sides to let air circulate.

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