Emus and Other Oz Friends

It was a sweltering, hot afternoon, like many we’ve had lately in Northern California; only it was years ago on an isolated Australian savannah, when unique Oz friends came to entertain us.

They were not human friends, for there were no other humans there that day, except for the woman behind the counter at the empty Wetland Centre. It was the Mareeba Wetlands in Queensland.

It was quiet, desolate and sizzling hot, and we had the whole place to ourselves.

Surrounded by nothing but termite mounds and gum trees, I think the heat, over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 C.), had something to do with it.

So far, Athena and I had had good birding luck, had found lizards and birds here, all completely entertaining.

The frill-necked lizard, one of my favorite lizards. Their neck frills up when they’re alarmed. But that day it was so hot, not even the frill moved.

And the birds in Australia are just always a surprise. This noisy intense bird had a blue face and yellow eyes. They eat bugs and nectar.

This ruby-eyed bird looked like a cross between a pheasant and a cuckoo.

So then we were taking a break, enjoying a cup of tea, when four big emus came sauntering in.

When the first one came around the corner, I noticed we both sat up straighter. Then three more followed.

The cheeky giants gathered around a nearby picnic table.

Native only to Australia, emus primarily eat plants and grasses, and that’s what they were eating that day. They also eat arthropods and insects in grass like crickets, beetles, and grasshoppers.

Although they are technically birds, emus are flightless and have large bodies, so it’s more like coming upon a human or large animal, than a bird.

They are funny-looking with their hairless legs and long necks. And their feathers look more like grass than feathers.

Their necks are blue underneath the feathers.

We knew better than to think they were friendly.

They were indifferent to us, and continued quietly grazing, even as Athena slowly moved in closer to get photos.

They can sprint up to 31 mph (50 km/h) and have powerful legs and formidable claws, used for defense.

The second tallest bird in the world, emus average around 65 inches (165 cm) tall, about 5’5″. Only ostriches are taller.

It is a unique experience to be face-to-face on level ground with a bird. It doesn’t happen too often.

Eventually Athena got too close. The emu let Athena know by indignantly stretching its long neck higher than her nearly six-foot-high frame. At that point we both backed up, and they resumed their grazing.

They stayed there so long that eventually we went back to our table.

They grazed on grass while we sipped our tea.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

66 thoughts on “Emus and Other Oz Friends

  1. What a neat experience!! Australia has long been on my wish list to visit for birding, and to see Kangaroos, and Koalas. I had forgotten about Emus until your post!! I’ve only seen those in captivity and then I was surprised by just how BIG they are!! To have tea while Emus graze around you freely is a bit mind blogging actually! πŸ˜‚

    The images are wonderful, and the story really makes it better by bringing it all to life. Thanks for another exciting arm-chair tour!

  2. Those Emu’s have Jurassic looking feet that I bet could do some serious damage! They look like the cleaning crew coming in to check for food dropped by human visitors.
    All that heat isn’t something I search out. I prefer cooler realms Jet.

    • Yeah, Timothy, I can see why you’d say that about emus. They’re big animals and not sweet. But I’m glad I could share this easy adventure we had and also glad you enjoyed the photos and story. I always appreciate your visits.

  3. I don’t think I’d describe them as “cheeky” – more like peevish. I have been attacked by an emu (in the swamps of Florida) She reminded me of my chronically unhappy grandmother! Come to think of it, I should have given the darn thing a bottle of vodka. That was the only thing that would cheer up grandmother!

    • Okay I laughed and laughed and laughed at your words here, Jan. I swear your writing cuts right to the quick and I so appreciate it. I don’t know what else to say here, and I’m still laughing, so I’ll just say, thank you so much. Oh, and cheers.

    • It was so hot that day and the pace was relaxed for all of us animals, so I, too, am glad, Eliza, that the warning was a gentle one. Many thanks for your lovely visit and comment today. I’m curious to know what you’ve been up to…heading your way now.

  4. Afternoon tea and emus – that doesn’t happen too often! Loved reading this, what an experience, and what wonderful tea companions. This has put a smile on my face, thank you so much, Jet!

    • Hey hey, so wonderful to know I have put a smile on your face, pc. Gosh, we need more smiles these days, eh? I’m glad you loved reading it, because I loved writing it. Thanks so much, my friend, always a true pleasure.

  5. These are some of the big birds of Australia that I think must have the closest resemblance to the ancestors, the dinosaurs. Just imagine how the dinosaurs were with their gigantic sizes and tremendous weight. We are lucky, not being around in that era when they roamed just about everywhere! Interesting and filled with info post, my friend, as always. πŸ™‚

    • Those big birds really make you think about the prehistoric times, H.J. You, who are an avid birder, can imagine how odd it would be to be at the same height as a bird. I’m happy you enjoyed the post, H.J., and am always delighted with your visits and comments. Thank you.

  6. What a cool experience, Jet! Emus are so gawky and prehistoric looking. So great that Athena got such close photos and that you could observe their behavior. This reminds me of our drive in summer to Adelaide…at one point the temps reached 115 F – we stopped at Kangaroo Island and the animals were barely moving. πŸ™‚

    • You know well those high Australian temperatures, Jane, and how people and animals slow down. It was fun to share our emu day with you, thank you. I’ve been to Kangaroo Island, a very cool place. Thanks so much, Jane, for your visits today.

  7. This is a delightful story and wonderful photos. As I live in Aus I am very familiar with the birds, but I must say, your unexpected Emu parade would have been a sight to see!

    • I’m glad you highlighted that sentence, Belinda, because it was such a weird sensation to be face-to-face with a bird. Thanks so much for your visit today, always appreciated.

  8. At first glance I find the emu rather dull (but that’s probably great for camouflage), but its head and face are really interesting, and kind of pretty – well, let’s say “full of character” anyway. I can see why they need to be respected though. Those legs and feet look quite tough. Great photos!

    • Yes, you nailed it Anneli with emus needing “to be respected.” They can pack a real punch if they have to, with those legs and feet. I’m glad you enjoyed the emu post today. Thank you.

    • Hi Bill, funny joke. But emus never did fly due to a change in their DNA genes. New genetic analysis shows that mutations in their DNA that occurred, they think, five separate times, disabled their wing-development function. Interesting and new fact. Cheers, dear Bill, and many thanks.

  9. “My dinner with Emu”. πŸ™‚ Probably did not get too philosophical. What a great adventure and experience for you both, Jet. The closest I have ever come to a tete a tete with a bird was a hummingbird checking me out in the backyard. They are not nearly as intimidating as a five and a half foot tall bird with a sharp beak and plenty of attitude. Glad that one only warned to keep your distance. And thanks for showing me what an oft used crossword puzzle word refers to. Almost every one I do has emu as one of the solutions. Wonderful post as always.

    • You’re right, Steve, our “dinner with Emu” (clever) was not too philosophical, but it was great fun. I do crosswords too (NYT), and “emu” does come up often for its majority of vowels. Like Uma (Thurman). I’m glad you enjoyed the emu post, and my thanks to you for your lovely comment.

  10. There was an estimate a while back (maybe around 2000) that approximately 3,000 Texans were raising emus. Occasionally, of course, some get loose, and both cowboys and law enforcement aren’t too pleased when it comes time to round them up. The last time I saw a few was in June, near Hallettsville. They were in a fenced yard near a bluebonnet patch I’d been inclined to stop and photograph, until the emus started wandering toward me with a glare in their eye.

    • I loved hearing about the emus in TX, Linda. I read that in the 1980s there was an attempt to raise emus for a healthy replacement to beef, and many of the farms were in TX. But that didn’t succeed as hoped, and many of the farms have dwindled. They still exist, and in other states, too. So I liked hearing about your June visit and the bluebonnet patch with the emus. Thanks so much, Linda.

    • Really great to have you stop by, BJ, thanks so much. I’m glad you enjoyed the emus and our Mareeba adventure. Cassowaries do live in parts of Australia but not in Mareeba Wetlands. They are now an endangered species, unfortunately. I was lucky to see cassowaries several times, and sought out this remarkable bird. I have a couple of posts on our cassowary adventures, here is one you might enjoy. Thanks so very much for stopping by, I really appreciated it. Link: https://jeteliot.wordpress.com/2016/07/22/bowerbird-bowers/

      • Thanks, Jet! I thought that I’d seen your other Australia and Cassowary post(s) in the past. Love the one you included the link for – Thanks! And sure enough, I commented on it back then, 5 years ago!

  11. What a wonderfully atmospheric post – the photos really conveyed something of the heat. Lovely to see the lizard, honeyeater and coucal in addition to the emus. I love the photo of the emu kind of stalking around the corner approaching the picnic area exuding such confidence.

    • I like that emu photo, too, Carol, for the same reason: the bird’s confidence. When a bird is over five feet tall, their confidence is more prominent. And your word “stalking” describes it well. I would imagine you’ve seen ostriches, another great and tall bird in your home continent. Thanks so much for your visits today, much appreciated.

  12. They are funny looking birds. I had no idea they have blue necks. I’m not sure how I would react being so close to such a giant bird… regular size birds make me uneasy as it is.

    • I’m glad I had you thinking about how you’d react when encountering a human-size bird, Diana. And I found the blue necks interesting too. Thank you, Diana, great to have you stop by and comment.

    • I really like that blue-faced honeyeater photo too, Walt. The honeyeaters are an abundant and interesting species, and the blue-faced is especially beautiful. Thanks so very much for your visit and words today, and welcome home.

  13. Another one of your amazing adventures! At least I can say I’ve seen a couple of Emus in the wild… the farm where we get out CSA has at least one wandering around once in awhile. Then in my early days in Oregon, one of my late husband’s cousins raised exotic critters like emus and I wish I could name all the others she had. There were the chicks she gave us that turned out to be all sorts of exotic hen breeds… one I called Phyllis Dyler (because of its goofy head feathers) and the ones with the feathers spread out on the feet.

    One day I was looking out the window and saw that tall emu head strolling down the driveway to a neighbor’s house. At least I knew who to call. She was clear over on the other side of the ridge. Turned out to be an emu with wanderlust. 😏

    Thanks for the entertaining post, as always! πŸ™

    • I am smiling as I type, Gunta, of your U.S. stories of the wandering emu out your window and the exotic critters on the cousins’ farm. Thanks so very much, my friend, for sharing your funny emu stories.

      • At least we knew where the wandering emu belonged though it was likely several miles from home by way of paved roads. Not so if you climbed over the ridge… which apparently the adventurous emu took in stride. 😏

    • Yes, that close-up photo of the emu feet is a good one for demonstrating the power and uniqueness of this very large bird. I’m so glad you enjoyed this post and had a “travel treat,” LuAnne. My warmest thanks.

  14. I am thinking a human would not do well in a race with an emu or a wrestle with those claws! What a photo of what look more like weapons than feet. Glad to hear that all the emu did was stand tall and give a warning to you the curious onlookers. An excellent description of their feathers looking more like grass. Best not to take the lawn mower anywhere near. πŸ™‚

  15. What a delightful experience – to read about. I can’t even imagine how intimidating such a large bird would be! I had to smile at you both sitting up straighter as they came ’round the bend! They probably lifted up their blue necks, too, at the sight of you nearby!

    • Yes, it was a surprise to us and the emus, but I am happy to report: we all got along swimmingly. I’m delighted you enjoyed the Oz friends story, dear Nan, thank you so much for your wonderful visit.

  16. Oh my, those emus are taller than me! What an amazing encounter. Those piercing orange eyes are stunning. Athena got some wonderful pictures. You just never know who might coming strolling by while sipping your tea on a hot day. πŸ˜‰

    • Your comment gave me a big smile, Barbara. So true, “You just never know who might come strolling by while sipping your tea….” I’m so very glad you stopped by and enjoyed the emus. Thank you.

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