Looking more like a hand puppet than a real bird, the common Emu inhabits northern, southeastern, and southwestern Australia (three different sub-species). They are stout-bodied and long-legged. Both sexes are brownish, with dark gray head and neck.
The soft-feathered flightless birds reach up to 2 metres (6.6 ft) in height. They have long thin necks and legs. Emus can travel great distances at a fast, economical trot and, if necessary, can sprint at 50 km/h (31 mph). Their long legs allow them to take strides of up to 275 centimetres (9.02 ft) They are opportunistically nomadic and may travel long distances to find food; they feed on a variety of plants, fruits and insects, but may also damage crops. Emus have been known to go for weeks without food. They also ingest stones, glass shards and bits of metal to grind food in the digestive system. They drink infrequently, but take in copious fluids when the opportunity arises. Emus will sit in water and are also able to swim. They are curious birds who are known to follow and watch other animals and humans. Emus do not sleep continuously at night but in several short stints sitting down.
Emus use their strongly clawed feet as a defense mechanism. Their legs are among the strongest of any animal, allowing them to rip metal wire fences. They are endowed with good eyesight and hearing, which allows them to detect predators in the vicinity. The plumage varies regionally, matching the surrounding environment and improving its camouflage. The feather structure prevents heat from flowing into the skin, permitting Emus to be active during the midday heat. Males and females are hard to distinguish visually, but can be differentiated by the types of loud sounds they emit by manipulating an inflatable neck sac. The peculiar structure of the trachea of the emu enables the loud booming note of the bird during the breeding season.
Emus breed in May and June and are not monogamous; fighting among females for a mate is common. Females can mate several times and lay several batches of eggs in one season. The animals put on weight before the breeding season. The male incubates from 7 to 10 dark green eggs, 13 cm (5 inches) long, in a ground nest for about 60 days, losing significant weight during this time as he does not eat.
The striped young are nurtured by their fathers, and soon run with the adults. They reach full size after around six months, but can remain with their family until the next breeding season half a year later. Emus can live between 10 and 20 years in the wild and are predated by dingos, eagles and hawks. They can jump and kick to avoid dingos, but against eagles and hawks, they can only run and swerve.
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