Australia, New Guinea, Indonesia, Solomon Islands, and Philippines


Grassy plains and open forests

Primordial birds

Tall and majestic, the emu belongs to a group of flightless running birds known as ratites, the most primitive of the modern bird families. The ratite family includes the kiwi, ostrich, cassowary, and rhea, all birds found only in the Southern Hemisphere. The soft-feathered, brownish emu is common throughout most of mainland Australia, although it avoids big cities, dense forests, and deserts.

The emu is the second-largest living bird in the world (the ostrich is the largest), with adult female emus being larger and heavier than the males.

Horse feathers!

Individual emu feathers have a very loose and simple design. Just like hairs, feathers grow from follicles. Typically, birds have one feather per follicle, but the emu grows a double-shafted feather from each follicle. The closely knit barbs found on a typical feather are widely spaced on the emu feather and don't have the usual hooks that attach to the other barbs. Instead, each barb hangs loosely and gives emu feathers a hairlike appearance. Other ratites share this feathery design.

When new feathers grow, they are almost black in color, but the sun soons fades them to a grayish brown while the shafts and the tips of the feathers remain black. Emu feathers are less water-resistant than other birds' feathers. An emu's tail feathers are not so soft. Instead, they are stiff and can be rattled by the bird to scare off predators, such as dingoes.

The first occurrence of genetically identical bird twins was discovered in the emu.
Emus are good swimmers and don't mind taking a dip in a pond or lake.
More than 600 places in Australia are named after the emu.
While running, the emu’s stride can be almost 9 feet (2.7 meters) long.
The Australian coat of arms has the image of an emu and a kangaroo, both animals that cannot back up.
An emu's body contains three gallons (13.6 liters) of oil. Emu oil is used in lotions, soaps, shampoo, and health care products.
The name emu is, surprisingly, not an Aboriginal word. It appears to come from an old Arabic word that means "large bird."

The San Diego Zoo does not currently have emus in its collection.

The emu subspecies that inhabited Tasmania became extinct around 1865, following the arrival of Europeans. The mainland subspecies’ distribution has also been affected by human activities. Once quite common on Australia's east coast, rapid human population growth forced the emu out of this area. However, agricultural development and water provided for livestock in Australia’s Outback have given the emu new regions to live in that were once too dry for its survival.

While the emu population is currently considered stable, drought and wildfires are potential threats that could easily impact them. Many people raise emus for their meat, oil, and leather.

You can help us bring species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.