Episode 80 – Emu: The Bird Wars of Australia

“And today we’re talking about a bird, not Eastern Michigan University, which I guess has the eagle as its mascot so that’s also a bird. But we’re discussing a different bird. So if some silly SEO sent you here, stay awhile. You might learn something.”

Australians are no strangers to deadly animals, everything from the venomous spiders to the fire-starting hawks wants to ruin their day. But 80 years ago, one animal got the best of them. The emu is a giant bird with a big appetite, and when it started eating crops from down under, the Australians did the only thing that made sense at the time, they declared war on them. But sometimes it all comes down to man vs nature in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.


  • Emus are big brown, flightless birds.
  • They have long powerful legs that are built to carry their large frames along open plains quickly. 
  • They have small vestigial wings that they flap when they run.
  • This may help them to maintain their balance as they move. 
  • Their brown feathers cover their torsos and lower neck, leaving their legs bare.
  • The color variations in their plumage gives them some natural camouflage, especially in arid environments. 
  • Their heads are covered in short, scraggly, black feathers.
  • Their necks beneath the sparse feathers is pale blue.
  • Their feet are large and have only three toes that end in sharp claws.
  • Emus have large auburn eyes that are creepy to look into for too long.

Range and Habitat

Emus live in Australia! 

  • They were once commonly found all over the continent, but they have since become more rare. 
  • However, agriculture and livestock farming have increased the availability of water in the interior of the country and emus populations have grown in arid regions.
  • They can live in a variety of habitats across Australia, including plains, forests, and coastal areas.
  • Emus will travel long distances in search of food and they will also migrate according to the seasons. 

Measure Up

Height – 1.9 metres (6.2 ft) in height – How many giant huntsman spiders (1 ft (30 cm)) go into the height of the emu? Hint: The giant huntsman is Australia’s largest spider and it’s the largest spider in the world by leg span. Answer: 6 huntsman spiders

Weight – 31.5 males and 37 kg females (69 and 82 lb) – Let’s go by female weight at 82 lbs. – How many australian 20 cent coins (11.3 grams or 0.3 oz) go into the weight of a female Emu? Hint: The 20 cent piece features a platypus! Answer: 3,291.5 coins

Fast Facts

  • Emus are diurnal and spend the day foraging for grasses and plants to eat.
  • They also eat arthropods like beetles, millipedes, and months to get their protein.
  • Emus sleep for several 20 minute intervals through the night to maintain vigilant against threats.
  • Most large predators that would have predated upon the emu are extinct like the thylican, the megalania (like a giant komodo dragon), and other large marsupials. 
  • However, they can still be hunted by dingoes and wedge-tailed eagles.
    • They can evade predators by running up to speeds of 48 km/h (30 mph).
    • They can also deliver deadly kicks with their clawed toes. 
  • Smaller predators like foxes, other birds or prey, monitor lizards, feral pigs, and dogs may target their eggs or chicks.