Emu – Dromaius novaehollandiae

Do you ever wonder why we have Emu Creek and Emu Vale in the Toowoomba area, but no Emu’s?

Emu’s were once widespread on the Downs and were a food staple for the Aborigines. Then in the early days of colonisation they, along with Kangaroos, were actively hunted and driven out of the best pastoral lands. So from the 1860’s onwards they were mainly found in the western areas of the Darling Downs, which is where we still find them now. They are rarely sighted east of a line from Leyburn to Dalby to Kingaroy.
Like Cassowaries, Emus are famous for the male incubating the eggs and raising the chicks. The male will sit for around two months on the eggs, hardly leaving or eating anything in this time. They’ll enter a state of torpor and can lose up to 8 kilos whilst incubating. The chicks hatch at the onset of spring and will spend the first week in the nest, and then the next 18 months by the father’s side. As the father is busy raising the chicks for this time, this means he can only breed every two years. Meanwhile the female is out looking for other mates, and can lay several clutches of eggs per year. This is actually a very effective survival strategy as it means a large number of eggs can be laid each year without the female tied up in the incubation and chick raising process.
By height Emu’s are the second largest bird in the world. Their closest relatives, Cassowaries, are heavier, but not as tall. The largest male Emu’s will stand over 6 feet tall and weigh over 60 kilos, though they average around 37 kilos for males, and 31 for females.

Immature emu at an emu farm


As they don’t fly Emu’s can afford to be relatively heavier than most birds, and they develop quite strong leg muscles, which also allows them to run up to 48 kilometres an hour. The large muscles though also mean they are farmed for their meat, as well as their oil, leather, eggs and plumes.
For more on Emus and other birds see my blog at birdbites.com.au.

This article first appeared in the High Country Herald on the 16th of April, 2024