What Is The Difference Between An Emu And An Ostrich?

Emus and ostriches are large, flightless birds. The ostrich is the largest bird on earth, and the emu is the second largest. Both have become popular non-traditional farm animals of late, and both yield a fairly high return on investment because both types of bird are useful for producing a number of different products. Emu farmers sell emu meat, leather and oil. Ostrich farmers sell ostrich meat, leather and feathers.

Both types of birds are ratites, birds that cannot fly because they have flat breastbones lacking a keel. Other ratites include:

  • Cassowary
  • Rhea
  • Kiwi

In this article, we explore the question “What is the difference between and emu and an ostrich?” Read on to learn more.

What Is An Ostrich?

what is an ostrich

In nature, ostriches live in the deserts and savannas of Africa. These birds can live to be 40 years old, and they can grow to a height of 9 feet. Ostriches may weigh between 220 and 350 pounds. These animals are extremely well suited to desert conditions because they are able to survive on the water that they glean from the plants that they eat.

Rugged ostriches are able to subsist quite well on the meager bounty of a desert setting. They will typically eat:

  • Plants
  • Roots
  • Seeds
  • Reptiles
  • Insects

As mentioned, ostriches glean most of their water from the things that they eat.

How Do Ostriches Defend Themselves?

Ostriches have very long legs and can propel themselves up to 16 feet forward with each stride. Their strong legs are very good weapons. Ostriches have two toes on each foot and one very long, sharp claw. When an ostrich kicks, this claw is sharp enough and the impact is strong enough to kill a human or even a lion.

Although, ostriches are flightless birds, they can run very fast and very far. An ostrich can run short distances as fast as 43 mph. If traveling a long distance, an ostrich typically runs at a speed of about 31 mph.

Even though they cannot fly, they do use their wings in a rudder-like manner to help them change directions as they run.

How Do Ostriches Interact?

Although groups of most birds are called flocks, a group of ostriches is called a herd. Ostriches typically live in herds numbering no more than 12 birds.

The herd is maintained by and alpha male, and he mates with a dominant hen. The alpha male may also mate with other hens in the group, and bachelor males may occasionally mate with some of the lesser hens.

All of the hens in the herd lay their eggs in the nest of the dominant hen. An ostrich nest is typically just a shallow depression scratched in the earth. The eggs of the dominant hen are placed prominently in the center. The alpha male and the dominant hen incubate all of the eggs.

How Long Do Ostriches Live?

Ostriches are able to mate at 3 or 4 years of age. No one knows exactly how long they live in the wild, but they have been known to live up to 40 years in captivity.

Do Ostriches Really Bury Their Heads In The Sand?

It used to be thought that ostriches buried their heads in the sand in an attempt to hide. This is actually quite untrue. When an ostrich senses danger, it will attempt to make itself smaller and less visible by crouching down and laying its head and neck along the ground.

The feathers of the bird act as good camouflage in a desert setting. If seen from a distance, an ostrich in a hiding position looks rather like a bush.

Ostrich vs Emu – The Differences

What Is An Emu?

Emus are also very large, flightless birds. They are second in size only to ostriches, and emus naturally live in Australia. An emu is typically a little under 6 feet tall. Males may weigh up to 121 pounds, and females may weigh up to 135 pounds.

Emus live in many parts of Australia, and there was once a subspecies that lived on King Island and on Tasmania, but this subspecies is extinct now.

Are Emus Desert Birds?

Rather like raccoons in America, emus have tended to migrate to areas where people are more plentiful and to abandon their original native settings. These days, free running emu are found near big cities in Australia, and they are not typically found in outlying areas that have been cleared as farmland.

Unlike ostriches, which live in deserts and savannas, emu need to have fresh water every day, and they are unable to glean all the water they need from the food they eat. Emus typically live in woodland and eucalyptus forest settings. They can also be found in Australia’s heath lands, sand planes and desert shrub lands.

Emus do not tend to stay in the desert areas, though. They move into these areas after heavy rainfall to take advantage of sudden growth of grasses, herbs and shrubs that bear fruit. During dry weather, they tend to stay in more forested settings.

Emus tend to migrate, and they follow the pattern of rainfall. They apparently are able to follow dark clouds. Additionally, they seem to listen for thunder and follow the scent of wet ground.

Emu also tend to follow herds of sheep and cattle because these animals are provided with food and water. For this reason, in some parts of Australia these birds are considered to be pests.

What Do Emus Eat?

During times of plenty, emu gorge and store great amounts of fat, which they can use for energy in leaner times. An emu may lose up to half its weight while it searches for food during the dry season.

Emu will not eat mature leaves or dry grasses. In an effort to store as much fat as possible, emus tend to focus their attention on the parts of the plants they eat that have the greatest amount of nutrients. For this reason, emus tend to favor:

  • Young shoots
  • Flowers
  • Seeds
  • Fruits

In addition to fruits and plants, they eat small animals and insects. Like common fowl, emus need to keep pebbles in their gizzards to help them grind food. They have also been observed eating charcoal.

Like ostriches, emus kept in captivity should have a diet that consists of 80% ratite pellets and about 20% fresh vegetation. Additionally, they will need pebbles and grit to keep their gizzards functioning.

How Do Emus Interact?

Emus tend to travel in pairs and mate in a fashion that is more like other birds than that of ostriches. Emu are so-called because the sound the male bird makes is “ee-moo“. Female emu make loud, booming, echoing sounds.

The female emu makes these sounds to attract the male and then the male builds a nest within his territory. This accomplished, the female joins him.

An emu nest is made of bark, grass and leaves and is usually built near low brush. This is a contrast to ostrich nests which are typically just a shallow depression scratched into the earth.

An emu nest is intended to hold the eggs of several hens, and is usually large enough to hold between 15 and 25 eggs area

Male emus take turns incubating the eggs. The incubation period is about 56 days. During this time, the male emu is completely absorbed in his task. He does not eat. He does not drink. He does not defecate.

When the male emu has begun sitting on the eggs, most female emus leave. During this time, they may pair with another male to lay more eggs. Some females will stay in the area to provide defense for the male who is occupied with sitting on the nest.

After the chicks have hatched, the male emu will become quite aggressive and he will drive the females away. Additionally, he will attack any other living thing that comes near the nest.

Freshly hatched emu chicks weigh between 15 and 17 ounces. The male emu stays with them for as long as 7 months. Sometimes chicks that have been lost from other broods will join existing groups. As long as these chicks are smaller than the chicks a male already has, he will accept them and care for them.

How Long Do Emus Live?

Emu are old enough to mate at 2 to 3 years old. In the wild, they live to be between 5 and 10 years old. In captivity, emus may live 5 or even 10 years longer than they do in the wild.

In rare cases, emus can grow to be quite old.

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