Emu is the second largest living bird in the world, with the ostrich being the first. Both are flightless birds having long legs and necks. Their native lands are thousands of miles apart. While emu is endemic to Australia, its relative is native to the African continent. Only one species of the emu is extant today, i.e. the common emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae). Its subspecies, living in King Island, Kangaroo Island, and Tasmania have gone extinct. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) has rated emu as a least-concern species for the bird is sufficiently common.
Julie Murray (2011) in the book “Emus” claims that emu is the tallest native bird in Australia which can grow over six feet tall. The females are bigger than the males and can weigh up to 54 kg (Murray, 2011).
Ostriches and emus are the members of the ratite family of birds, which also includes rheas, moas, kiwis, and cassowaries. There are two extant species of ostriches, the common ostrich and the Somali ostrich. They are scientifically known as Struthio camelus and Struthio molybdophanes, respectively.
Like the emu, the common ostrich has also been rated as a least-concern bird species by the ICUN. The East African Ostrich (also called the pink-necked ostrich or Masai ostrich), North African ostrich (also called the Barbary or red-necked ostrich), and South African ostrich (also called the black-necked ostrich) are the extant subspecies of common ostriches.
Emu vs Ostrich – Comparison and Contrast:
Buffy Silverman’s book “Can You Tell an Ostrich from an Emu?” highlights the similar and contrastive features of the two birds. They look a lot alike. Like all birds, their bodies are covered with feathers. Their feathers are soft and loose, and they look shaggy.
The long necks of both emus and ostriches tower above tall grass and their huge eyes watch for enemies.
Though bearing several similarities, they differ from each other on many grounds. Here follows the comparison and contrast of the two Aves species.
Size and Weight:
The largest living bird in the world, the ostrich may measure 7 to 9 feet in height, i.e. significantly taller than a man with average height. Its weight may range from 100 kg to over 150 kg. Being smaller than the ostrich, the emu is from 5.2 to 6.2 feet tall. Similarly, it weighs from 30 to 45 kg.
Though bodies of both the birds are covered with soft and loose feathers, they are not alike. When you look at an ostrich’s head, you will see only a few fuzzy feathers. And the pink skin of its head and neck is clearly visible.
On the other hand, an emu’s head is covered with dark feathers which blend in with bushes and grass.
Number of Toes:
You can also tell these big birds apart based on the number of toes. An ostrich has two toes on each feet, one big and one small. The big toe has a long, sharp nail, while no nail grows on the little toe.
An emu, on the other hand, has three toes on each foot and each toe has a big nail. The bird uses its big, sharp toenails to fight enemies.
Both the birds are omnivorous in their mode of nutrition, i.e. they consume plant as well as animal matter. The common ostrich typically eats leaves, roots, and seeds of plants. It also feeds on lizards, insects and other creatures that are available in its habitat.
The emus typically feed on plants such as wattles (acacias) and grasses. Their animal diet consists of insects and other arthropods, including spiders, cockroaches, crickets, ladybirds, and grasshoppers.
The average lifespan of the emu in the wild is 10 to 20 years. In contrast, the lifespan of ostrich in the wild is much longer, i.e. 30 to 40 years.
Emu vs Ostrich – Interesting Facts:
- A group of ostriches is called a herd while that of emus is known as a mob.
- The emus deliberately swallow small stones which help them in grinding up and digesting the plant material.
- An emu has the top running speed of 50 kilometres an hour. In contrast, the ostriches can run much faster, i.e. up to 70 kilometres per hour.
- An ostrich may use its wings as rudders to change direction while running.
- Did you know the long, powerful legs of an ostrich can cover up to 16 feet in a single stride!