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Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae)
The Emu has a rich history and controversy about where its name originated and to what bird family it is classified. Being populated all over Australia, its an important part of their culture and featured on the coat of arms and many coins. There are many subcategories and species of the Emu, some extinct, but the bird is common enough to be of little concern for extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The Emu is a brown, tall bird with a long neck and the ability to run long distances quickly. They do not fly, what they call ratite. They make up for it running at speeds up to 30 mph with strides as long as 9 feet at a time. Their three-toed feet with sharp middle claws provide their protection as well as the ability to kick to injure their opponents. They also have incredible hearing and eyesight to detect oncoming dangers. Male and female birds look quite similar and have special physical features to protect them from the heat while they are out during the day, including sparse hair on their heads, black tips on what they do have to absorb the sun's rays and an insulating layer of plumage near the skin. Their bodies provide similar protection for the eyes against dust, a second eyelid.
Emu's In Nature
In nature Emus often travel in pairs, but sometimes in large groups only when they need to find a new food source. In West Australia, they migrate north in the summer and south in the winter, like smaller birds you may know and in the East, their migrating patterns are more unpredictable. They spend most of their day foraging, cleaning themselves, resting and rarely swim unless there is flooding to overcome. Their sleeping pattern is intricate like ours, they are able to fall asleep at different levels. The first level they can be alerted awake if the need arises, the next stages they fall deeper asleep in 20-minute intervals as their necks drop closer to the ground and finally into an 'S' shape folded on top of itself. They usually wake every 90 minutes for 10-20 minutes to eat or poo and then sleep again, up to 7 hours in a 24 hour period.
These animal's instincts are very intelligent. They have patterns in nearly everything they do, including what they eat and when they eat it. Their diet consists of mostly plant life and insects for protein. They swallow small stones to assist their digestion and in captivity will eat car keys, glass, marbles, jewelry, nuts and bolts and such to achieve the same effect. It is unclear why they also ingest charcoal and they drink a lot of water in spurts, but sometimes go long times without drinking at all as if they would in nature when there is no water available.
Females pursue males in this species of ratite. There is a lot of dancing involved. Females actually change color while courting a male! Their feathers grow darker and the skin beneath their eyes turn a bluish color. They pull their neck back, puff their feathers out, and make mating calls that have been described to sound like drumming.
Like other birds of their kind, ratite, Emus are territorial of their young and their eggs. Females lay eggs the male will incubate and watch over primarily. The family unit might stick together for the duration of the season, but the female may move on to lay eggs for the next male. They make loud noises to protect their territory from unwanted visitors or at unusual objects they will "boom" and grunt as well.
Incubation of the eggs takes a male 8 weeks, where he leaves them for nothing and stands only to turn the eggs up to ten times a day. He loses 1/3 of his body weight during this period and survives solely on his fat stores. The "love" of the father does not end there. Chicks hatched are grown when they are around 6 months of age and the father protects and teaches them for about 7 months. During this time he develops a kind of disdain for any other creature, including the mother, sleeps with his chicks tucked into his feathers and can sit upon them to protect them at any given moment. When the chicks are grown, they can stay with the family for up to 6 months or go off to mate for the first time.
Emus In Captivity.
Emus in captivity can live up to 10 years. By nature and throughout history they've been known to be so curious that they may follow humans and observe them. This is why early people easily hunted and ate them using what might seem something similar to a cat toy today. If kept by humans it's important to understand the various threats to emus, namely their susceptibility to parasites both internal and external. Lice, ticks, mites and fleas can be found on an Emu's coat and other internal threats to the Emu's youth are often of the intestines to cause diarrhea and of the throat to cause respiratory problems.