Emus are large, flightless birds from the Casuariidae family, which also contain cassowaries. The emu ranks among the ostrich and cassowary as the world’s largest birds and is the 3rd tallest bird and 5th heaviest.
Emus are strong birds with large claws and broad beaks, which aren’t particularly hard as they’re optimized for grazing plants rather than tearing meat. Still, the emu is a fierce adversary for anything that comes face-to-face with one - so are emus dangerous?
Like many birds, Emus are prone to territoriality, especially in the breeding season. If provoked, they’re certainly known to attack humans, but most attacks only result in superficial wounds. Emus are large and strong, but they’re not as aggressive or dangerous as ostriches or cassowaries, which are more frequently linked to attacks and occasional fatalities.
It’s often said that, despite all of Australia’s dangerous and, at times, terrifying wildlife, you’re still more likely to die from falling off a horse than being killed by any animal! Of course, emus shouldn’t be messed with, but they pose little threat under normal circumstances.
There is yet more to learn about these titanic birds, however - read on to find out!
Emus are generally quite calm, but become highly territorial in during the breeding season
Emus are equipped with strong legs that enable them to run at speeds of 30 miles (50 kilometers) per hour. In addition, their legs pack enough power to kill a dingo, which is one of their main predators.
Emus jump when startled and kick anything that is too close to them. Their long hair-like feathers are tough to grip too, which makes them challenging for predators to latch onto.
An Emu will rarely attempt to attack a predator with its beak, as its beak is soft and that would leave its soft neck exposed. Instead, Emus elevate their posture to keep their vulnerable heads and necks away from predators.
A close up of the legs and claws on an adult Emu
Where Emu attacks are described, virtually all injuries are caused by kicks and not bites. Emu's feet are powerful, and their claws are sharp, but contrastingly, their bills are pretty soft.
An Emu’s diet consists mostly of plant material. While they’re quite capable of ripping tough vegetation from bushes, their bills don’t need to be especially sharp or hard to cater to their diet.
So, if you do get attacked by an Emu, don’t be too worried about its bite. It’s the kick you need to worry about!
Like most animals, Emus are most likely to be aggressive when provoked or startled. Therefore, Emu attacks on humans frequently occur when the bird is surprised or when something startles it, like a loud noise.
For example, a man at the Fraser Coast Wildlife Sanctuary at Oakhurst was injured by an Emu that was startled by nearby train noise.
In the wild, sneaking up on Emus or otherwise startling them is a bad idea. If you remain calm and keep your distance, they’re rarely aggressive. In fact, zookeepers often say Emus are gentle birds that are pretty hard to annoy to the point they’ll attack you.
Emu females are dominant over males and tend to be more aggressive, especially in the breeding season.
A close up of an Emu
Emus are known to be quite gentle, calm, and docile around humans. They’re inquisitive and curious and often follow humans around, observing them from a safe distance. This isn’t a cause for alarm - the Emu is simply being curious.
When kept as pets, Emus can be trained to be kind and inquisitive and are rarely aggressive.
Nevertheless, Emu attacks do occur and are likelier when the bird is startled, surprised, or provoked. Therefore, like any animal - especially large animals - it’s wise to be cautious when you’re near an Emu rather than assuming they’re friendly!
Emus are not known for their aggression. These curious birds are known to follow or ‘stalk’ humans in the wild, but this isn’t a threat - these inquisitive birds are simply watching from a safe distance.
Like most animals, Emus are only aggressive when surprised, provoked, or startled. While generally friendly, you can’t ever fully predict what an Emu will do when you approach it.
Other birds don’t tend to encroach on an Emu’s personal space, and since the Emu is flightless, it’s not exactly difficult for birds to fly away from danger if they do!
Like most birds, Emus are prone to aggression when other animals threaten them, their young, or their eggs. But, as a rule, they’re not aggressive to other birds or animals.
Ostriches are considerably larger, heavier, and more aggressive than Emus. While an encounter with an aggressive Emu will rarely result in much more than scratches and flesh wounds, ostriches are known to repeatedly kick and bludgeon people to death.
There’s no real comparison between them - ostriches are definitely more dangerous!
The same applies to cassowaries, which are linked to serious injuries or even deaths yearly. The Emu is easily the least dangerous of the three big flightless birds.
Emu on a grassy meadow
Before attacking, Emus stand tall, puffing up their feathers to look larger and more imposing. They’ll also hiss and puff up their chests.
This is a surefire sign that the Emu is annoyed - and a cue to back away slowly!
Emu encounters rarely result in the bird chasing someone away. Instead, they’ll probably launch a few blows and retreat once they’re satisfied there’s no real danger.
In the unlikely event that an Emu chases you, hide behind a tree or rock. You’re better off backing away slowly and being quiet, though. That way, it’s highly likely that Emu will lose interest and leave.
An emu running along the fence line
The Great Emu War of 1932 occurred when Australia declared war on Emus in Western Australia and tried to eradicate them from the environment by shooting them.
Around 100 to 1000 Emus were killed - a small ‘victory’ considering that the Australian military was wielding Jeeps with light machine guns. Major G.P.W. Meredith said, “The emu is an amazingly hard bird to kill outright, many carry mortal wounds up to a distance of half a mile.”
No humans died in the Emu Wars.
Emu society is generally peaceful, and only minor brawls are reported between females who are competing for males to mate with.
These fights can be quite vicious but rarely result in death. When kept in captivity, flocks of Emus usually get on well, and bloodthirsty fights aren’t typical.
A family of Emus in the wild
It depends on the pet. Due to their massive size, Emus are definitely more dangerous than small pets like hamsters or rats. But there’s probably not much in it when comparing Emus to medium-sized or large dogs, snakes, and other reptiles.
If hand-reared and treated with love, kindness, and respect, they’re affectionate, docile, and attentive pets that don’t lack intelligence.
Emus aren’t fond of loud noises, but there’s nothing they’re notably terrified of other than their natural predators, which include dingoes, wild dogs, and crocodiles.
Instead of trying to scare them away from an encounter, you’re probably best off slowly backing away from the Emu and remaining calm until it loses interest.
Scared emu running away
These three large birds are the tallest and heaviest in the world. However, there is a clear loser, and that is the Emu.
Emus weigh up to a maximum of 50kg, though 60kg females have been recorded. Even so, cassowaries are heavier - almost twice as heavy on average - and weigh up to 80kg. They’re stronger, stockier, and have massive claws up to 4 inches (10 centimeters) long!
Moreover, cassowaries are more aggressive and vicious and are known to repeatedly kick animals (including humans) to death. An average cassowary would likely defeat an average Emu.
That just leaves the ostrich, which is a step above even the mighty cassowary. Ostriches can weigh an incredible 160kg and grow to heights of 2.8m. Their legs are exceptionally powerful, and their kicks can kill a lion instantly. Cassowaries are stocky, strong, and potentially vicious, but ostriches are more than a match for them and would almost definitely come out on top.
Cassowaries are pretty aggressive birds, when compared to Ostriches and Emus
A few sources say that Emu-caused fatalities are “rare.” However, there isn’t a confirmed case of an Emu directly killing a human. Instead, these reports and articles likely refer to cassowaries from the same family as Emus.
Cassowaries are considerably more dangerous than Emus and definitely have killed humans. But as far as Emu-related injuries go, most are just flesh wounds and scratches.
However, there have been 5 Emu-related deaths resulting from motor vehicle collisions, e.g., people colliding with Emus.
An Emu’s most powerful weapon is its kick, not its bite. Emus have soft beaks that aren’t well-equipped for biting.
Emus are indirectly linked to 5 fatal motor vehicle accidents. This is less than crocodiles, sharks, spiders, kangaroos, dogs, cows, and horses.
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