Range:

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

Habitat:

Grassy plains, open forests, and scrubland

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 emu is the second-largest living bird in the world (the ostrich is the largest). Adult female emus are larger and heavier than the males.

Horse feathers!

Individual emu feathers have a loose and simple design. Just like hairs, feathers grow from follicles. Most birds have one feather per follicle, but the emu grows a double-shafted feather from each follicle. Barbs found on a typical bird feather are closely knit, but an emu feather’s barbs are widely spaced 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 the bird can rattle them to scare off predators, such as dingoes.

The first occurrence of 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 3 gallons (13.6 liters) of oil. Emu oil is used in lotions, soaps, shampoo, and health care products.

Our first emus arrived at the San Diego Zoo in 1925. In 1935, newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst loaned us a pair of emus from his private zoo. That pair produced the first emu eggs at our facility. But we soon discovered that the emu egg-laying cycle is during winter for us but summer for these Australian birds. The eggs needed artificial incubation then hand-rearing if they were to hatch and survive. Over the years, exhibit conditions for the birds improved; in 1945, a male emu incubated his eggs and cared for his chicks. Between 1948 and 1976, more than 1,000 emus were raised at the Zoo and shipped to zoos all over the world.

Animal stars
In 1978, an emu hatched in the Zoo’s Avian Propagation Center became an ambassador for her species. Named Daphne, she had a long career on stage and screen, appearing on countless television talk shows, meeting scores of celebrities, and participating in Zoo animal shows and presentations with guests. She even “painted” with her feet, her art sold to raise money for local wildlife rehabilitation efforts. It wasn’t until the emu matured that her trainers realized "she" was a “he.” Daphne was our star until his passing in 2012.

At the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, an emu named Max delighted audiences at daily bird shows for many years. He had one trained skill: walking back and forth across the stage from one trainer to the other. That’s all he did, but he did it with aplomb!

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

The emu subspecies that lived in Tasmania became extinct around 1865, following the arrival of Europeans. The Australian mainland subspecies’ distribution continues to be affected by human activities. Once quite common on Australia's east coast, rapid human population growth forced the emu out of this area. 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 impact them. Many people raise emus for their meat, oil, and leather.

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