Hellabrunn’s Emu Chicks Go to ‘Daddy Day Care’
July 11, 2016
Hellabrunn Zoo Munich currently has five new Emu chicks! The chicks hatched between May 8th and May 14th, and the new mob is currently under the protective care of their ten-year-old father “Kanoro”.
The Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) is the second-largest living bird by height, after the ostrich. It is endemic to Australia where it is the largest native bird and the only extant member of the genus Dromaius.
Emus are soft-feathered, brown, flightless birds with long necks and legs, and can reach up to 1.9 metres (6.2 ft) in height. Emus can travel great distances and sprint at 50 km/h (31 mph). They forage for a variety of plants and insects, but have been known to go weeks without eating. They drink infrequently, but take in large amounts of water when opportunity arises.
Breeding takes place in May and June, and fighting among females for a mate is common. Females can mate several times and lay several clutches of eggs in one season.
The male does the incubation; during this process he hardly eats or drinks and loses a significant amount of weight. Incubation takes 56 days, and the male stops incubating the eggs shortly before they hatch. The temperature of the nest rises slightly during the eight-week period. Although the eggs are laid sequentially, they tend to hatch within two days of one another, as the eggs that were laid later experienced higher temperatures and developed more rapidly. During the process, the precocial Emu chicks need to develop a capacity for thermoregulation. During incubation, the embryos are kept at a constant temperature but the chicks will need to be able to cope with varying external temperatures by the time they hatch.
Newly hatched chicks are active and can leave the nest within a few days of hatching. They stand about 12 cm (5 in) tall at first, weigh 0.5 kg (17.6 oz), and have distinctive brown and cream stripes for camouflage, which fade after three months or so. The male guards the growing chicks for up to seven months, teaching them how to find food.
Chicks grow very quickly and are fully-grown in five to six months; they may remain with their family group for another six months or so before they split up to breed in their second season.
During their early life, their father, who adopts a belligerent stance towards other Emus, including the mother, defends the young Emus. He does this by ruffling his feathers, emitting sharp grunts, and kicking his legs to drive off other animals. He can also bend his knees to crouch over smaller chicks to protect them. At night, he envelops his young with his feathers. As the young Emus cannot travel far, the parents must choose an area with plentiful food in which to breed.
In captivity, Emus can live for upwards of ten years.
In the 1930s, Emu killings in Western Australia peaked at 57,000, due to rampant crop damage. In the 1960s, bounties were still being paid in Western Australia for killing Emus. Since then, wild Emus have been granted formal protection under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Their occurrence range is between 4,240,000 and 6,730,000 km2 (1,640,000–2,600,000 sq mi), and a 1992 census suggested that their total population was between 630,000 and 725,000. The bird is now classified as “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.