Emus are the only bird from the Dromaius and are the second largest bird in the world by weight and third by height, after the ostrich and cassowary. Living only in Australia, Emus have specialised to survive amongst the rugged, arid outback terrain. Even a single emu is an imposing sight, but what is a group of emus called?
The main collective nouns for a group of emus are a mob and a herd of emus. Actually, emus are not particularly sociable or gregarious birds and spend much of their time alone or with their mate. But, emus do flock together to feed or when travelling in search of food - this is when you’re most likely to see a mob or herd of emus.
Emus are perhaps called mobs because they can be very destructive to plant crops and farms. In the 1930s, Australia declared war on emus, pursuing them through the outback with modified cars mounted with machine guns. Given that there are still emus around today, you’d have to say that the emus won! Such is a testament to the tenacity of this enormous bird.
Read on to learn more about groups of emus and the flocking behaviours of these super-tough birds!
A small flock of Emus, near Lake Cowal New South Wales, Australia
Emus are generally solitary birds, but they do flock together when this is advantageous to them, such as when they travel, mate or feed.
Since they occupy fairly resource-stretched and barren parts of Australia, emus often travel significant distances for food. When travelling, emus can form herds numbering up to 20 or so birds, but rarely more.
When breeding, emus avoid each other and stick to their mated pairs. Pairs spend around five months together until the female lays her clutch in a nest built by both the male and female. During this time, emus are pretty sedentary and move only to search for food. They often feed with a few other pairs - even a handful of emus can totally demolish a farmer’s field!
In short, though, emus are not pack birds and rarely flock together in big groups. Despite there being some 700,000 emus in Australia, they’re actually surprisingly cryptic and detailed studies into their behaviour are sparse.
A small group of emus in the outback New South Wales, Australia
Emus rarely flock together, spending the vast majority of their year either alone or with their mate. The only exceptions are when emus come together to feed in the same area, or when they migrate across Australia.
Whilst some emus are thought to be seasonally monogamous, most emus flock together each year to find new mates. A female emu often mates with multiple males, fighting ferociously with each other to secure single unmated males. Once paired, emu couples will break away from each other and can spend around half the year together in a pair.
Emus inhabit both Western, Southeastern and Southwestern Australia, and all populations move throughout the year. Populations of emus in Western Australia tend to head north in summer and south during winter, whereas emus in the east tend to move sporadically throughout the year.
Emus can travel long distances of some 50km a day and do so primarily in search of food. They can lose a remarkable 50% of their weight whilst travelling across desert plains in search of food sources. It’s thought that emus travel together because they pursue the same rainfalls, which signal food.
A group of young emus in scrub land, near Alligator Gorge in Wilmington, South Australia, part of the Flinders Ranges
Emus rarely form herds or flocks larger than around 20 or so birds, but larger herds have been observed. You’ll likely only see large herds of emus when they’re travelling in search of food. For example, a heavy rainstorm might attract hundreds of emus in pursuit of food and water.
Despite being generally solitary birds, emu families form strong seasonal bonds. The chicks are usually raised by the father and stay together as a close family unit until the following breeding season.
During this time, the female may stick around for a couple of months or may go in search of a new single male. Emus are polyandrous, but some couples seem to stick together across different breeding seasons. The female can lay up to 3 clutches per year with different mates.
Emu with a group of chicks
Emus flock together for one of three reasons:
Otherwise, emus tend to be solitary and tend to spend much of their time alone or in their mated pairs.
There is no specific name or term for a pair of emus. In fact, the etymology of the name emu is unclear in itself but may originate from Arabic adapted by Portuguese explorers.
A pair of Emus in the outback
A group of baby emus would probably be called a mob, the same as a group of adult emus. Baby emus stick with each other for around half a year at least - they have a lot of growing to do before they become independent adults!
During this time, they stick with the father, who takes on rearing duties as the female looks for another mate. Occasionally, the female will also stick with the family unit for a while.
A pair of emus, performing a mating ritual
Emus are not monogamous and are often incorrectly cited to mate for life. However, mated emus do form strong pair bonds that last until the female lays the first clutch. Then, the male will incubate the eggs as the female wanders off to find a new mate to repeat the process with.
This polyandrous behaviour enables the female emu to lay up to 3 clutches per year, which is crucial to the survival of the species. Moreover, emus partake in brood parasitism, meaning that the female may actually lay other males’ eggs in one nest - the male may incubate the eggs from multiple fathers.
Again, this high egg output and efficient brooding behaviour are necessary for the survival of the emu species.
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