Friday, 15 February 2013

Emu


order : Casuariiformes      Genus & Species : Dromaiidae     Family : Dromaius novaehollandiae

The emu is the only member of its family, but is related to the doublewattled cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) in the Casuariiformes order. A wanderer by nature, the emu adopts a more settled existence in the breeding season; the male dutifully tends to his brood and defends it fiercely against intruders.The long, powerful legs of the emu compensate for its heavy body, small wings and shaggy plumage, which prevent it from flying. They found throughout much of Australia, the emu is found in a wide variety of habitats — from coastal flats, woodlands and grassy plains to the uplands of the Great Dividing Range.


Habitat : The emu is found in a variety of habitats, avoiding only desert and tropical forest. Around 700,000 birds are dispersed across woodlands, shrublands and grassy plains — from the tropical north to temperate south and from coastal flats up to the Great Dividing Range. The emu avoids Australia’s arid heartland, but may occur in desert after rains or where water is available. Emus may turn up in unlikely settings while migrating, such as plowed fields or suburbs. It abandons its nomadic life only in the breeding season, when it moves to reliable food supplies, away from human disturbance.

Food & Feeding : The emu’s diet depends largely on what’s available. If there’s a varied food supply, it prefers to pick out the most nutritious items, such as seeds and flowers. Tender shoots and leaves are also favored, along with insects and the occasional small vertebrate, such as a lizard or rodent.The emu resorts to coarse leaves and grass if it’s the only food available in a particular area. The emu forages at a walking pace, with its head held straight out or low to the ground. Plant matter is either plucked in passing or gleaned from the ground, then swallowed with a backward toss of the head. Feeding takes place only in daylight hours. If an emu is disturbed, it races away to cover at up to 30.

Behavior : Although it frequently occurs alone or in pairs, the emu is a sociable bird that may roam in small groups or loose flocks. Outside the breeding season, the bird rarely maintains any territorial claims it may have made. It wanders freely from place to place, eating and drinking to build up fat reserves. An emu can travel for days without food and, in lean times, lives off this fat reserve, surviving losses of up to half its total bodyweight. The emu’s mobility enables it to make seasonal migrations across the drier western parts of Australia, following the rainfall pattern. At times, nomadic bands join together to form flocks of several hundred. These can cause severe damage to crops — so severe, in fact, that a vast fence 600 miles long has been erected to keep the emu away from the arable lands of the southwest.

Breeding : The emu looks for a mate in December, in the middle of the Australian summer. Once a bond is formed, the pair stays together while the male builds a nesting platform of grass, twigs, bark and leaves. After mating, the female lays a clutch of green, oval eggs and then, as incubation begins, she leaves her mate and may mate again with other males. Sometimes several females mate with a male and lay their eggs in his nest, leaving him with several clutches of eggs to incubate.The male stays within his nesting territory, defending it until the chicks hatch. The young hatch well developed and bear camouflage stripes that they keep for about ten weeks. In a few hours they can walk and soon the brood leads, rather than follows, the male. In most cases, the young stay with the father for five months before leaving, but in dry conditions, when food is short and chicks develop slowly, parental duties may continue for a year or more.


Parting : As if styled by a heavyduty comb, the emu’s coarse plumage has a prominent middle part running down the back of its neck and back.
Wings : The small, claw-tipped wings are useless for flight and hang limply at the emu’s sides.
Feather : The emu's double-shafted feather structure is unique among birds.A secondary plume sprouts from the base of the shaft, equal in length to the main feather.
Legs & Feet : Long and sturdy, the legs give the emu speed, while the long-clawed toes provide grip and allow it to deliver flying kicks in defense.


Weight :  77–110 lbs.
Height :  5–6' to top of head; 3–4' to top of back
Sexual Maturity :  2 years
Breeding Season :  April–June

The emu is a shy but curious bird, drawn to unusual objects. Aboriginal hunters, hidden in trees, would dangle balls of feathers to lure an inquisitive emu into range.