Photo Credit: amk713 via Compfight cc
The emu is one of Australia’s most distinctive and recognisable animals, endemic to this country and beloved all the more because of this fact. If there was a novelty spin-off of the NBA, designed to promote the wonders of the zoological sciences by, somewhat unethically, assigning animals to play in one of the 5 positions that comprise the game of basketball, the emu would be an all-star centre. This is because, as Australia’s largest native bird, the emu has an imposing 1.9 metre stature at its highest, erect position. This also makes it the second largest bird on the planet, after the emu’s “ratite” cousin, the ostritch. Ratites are a class of flightless birds, including Australia’s very own Cassowary, which have their origins in the supercontinent of Gondwanaland. 

Although eschewing densely populated areas and forests, and arid areas generally, the emu is found across most of the Australian mainland, preferring sclerophyll forest and savannah woodland. It is instantly recognisable due to its dishevelled grey-brown suit, which looks like the bird has housed itself under a thatched hut seized from an exhibition on Neolithic man’s dwellings. Adding to its visual appeal, the head and neck stand out firm and unashamedly naked in a blue-black skin. In addition to its striking long legs and three talon-like toes, the bird evokes images of life in the Cretaceous geological period, inhabited as it was by dinosaurs.   

The emu, like the animated stars of Happy Feet, derives virtually no benefit from its wings, and is condemned to be flightless, waiting in this liminal zone for natural selection to completely remove them. The emu does compensate by being an agile, and swift navigator of terrain though: when not trotting about, it can reach a staggering 50 km/hr when sprinting. This is unrelated to the fact that they are know as solitary creatures, however the idea of them being spurred to a brisk sprint in order to escape social anxieties and the critical gaze of mates is worth a snigger.

The emu’s diet is quite eclectic, snacking on seeds of all kinds, fruit, insects, and when times get tough in an economic slump, it reverts even to animal droppings. Searching for food is the primary reason for the emu’s nomadism, known to travel up to 25 km in one day. Another startling fact is that the emu can go for weeks without eating.

Emus breed in winter, where they join in holy matrimony for a period of 5 months, which includes courtship, nesting and laying eggs. The male is then tasked with incubation as the female wonders off, convinced by the aggressive overtures of the male.

It was initially thought that “Emu” was an Aboriginal word, however this theory has been revised and traces the word to the English colonists’ bastardisation of a Portuguese word for large bird. This large bird, the Emu, has been a rarity when it comes to Australia’s fauna in that numbers have steadily increased since European settlement, with the bird benefiting from domestic stocks of water. For the short term at least, we can expect the emu to continue to thrive and scour the heartland of Australia looking for much-needed nutrition in poo.