Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark
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A common emu at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas.

Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

Common Emu

The common emu may not be able to soar, but for such a big bird it sure can run. This flightless bird has small wings relative to the size of its body. Its long, powerful legs, though, allow it to run up to about 30 miles (50 kilometers) per hour. Each emu foot has three forward-facing toes that allow it to grip the ground, thrusting the bird forward. A powerful kick is also handy for keeping predators at bay.


Emus are members of the ratite family, which also includes ostriches, cassowaries, and rheas. They are among the largest birds in the world, and they're found primarily in Australia, but also in New Guinea, Indonesia, Solomon Islands, and the Philippines. Emus beat the heat in hot, arid habitats: Their grayish-to-brownish body feathers provide almost complete protection from solar radiation. Though equipped with this natural sunscreen, they also live in grasslands, savannas, and forests, preferring areas with access to standing water.

Emus range over large areas, foraging on fruits, seeds, plant shoots, small animals, animal droppings, and insects. They mate and nest over the Australian winter, and it’s not always a loving affair—­­females have been known to fight viciously over unpaired males.


Mating pairs stay together for up to five months, after which females lay large, emerald-green eggs in expansive ground nests. The males incubate the eggs for about seven weeks without drinking, feeding, defecating, or leaving the nest. The females, meanwhile, have often moved on, sometimes mating with a different male in the same season. Chicks stay with dad for about four months, until they are able to eat on their own.


Predators of the emu include dingoes and wedge-tailed eagles. Snakes and other nest-raiders devour emu eggs, but they’re not the only ones. Humans farm emus for their meat and eggs, too. One emu egg can make an omelet big enough to feed four to six adults.