6+ Fascinating Differences Between Emus and Ostriches

Discover Why Ostrich Meat Costs More Than Emu: A Comparative Insight on Exotic Poultry Pricing

Ostrich head closeup outdoors

Ostriches and emu bear more than a passing resemblance to each other. Casual viewers could easily be forgiven by calling the birds by each others’ names. However, despite belonging to the same ratite bird family, emus and ostriches are very different creatures.

Studies show that ostriches differ from emu in size, coloration, speed, and lifespan. The birds practice different mating methods and have opposing demeanors. 

Both Emus and Ostriches have a small number of species. There are only three Emu species and two kinds of ostriches.

This article provides you with everything you need to know to differentiate ostriches from emus

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Physical Appearances

Emus and ostriches look similar at first glance. Both bird species are large, with long legs and necks. However, certain physical characteristics immediately differentiate the two, including wings, feet, size, and coloration.

Wings

Emu 6+ Fascinating Differences Between Emus and Ostriches
Australian Emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae in the Australian Outback, Exmouth, Western Australia, Australia

Emu wings are small and easily missed. The appendages sit close to an emu’s torso. Emus are flightless, but their wings aren’t completely useless. The large birds use the flappers to cool them down in the heat. Emus also use their wings to shift their direction while running.

Ostrich 6+ Fascinating Differences Between Emus and Ostriches
Female ostrich (Struthio camelus) with chicks, Kalahari desert, South Africa

Ostriches have very large wings that measure up to six feet. Like emu, ostriches can’t fly. However, ostriches spread their wings while running for balance. Though the wings aid with running, their primary purpose is cosmetic. Ostriches use their enormous flappers to attract mates.

Feet

Like many large birds, emus have three toes. Emus are very fast birds; their sharp toes help them grip the ground and propel their bodies forward as they run.

Ostriches have only two toes on each foot. This differentiates them not only from emu but from all other land birds. The larger of the two digits does most of the heavy lifting. The big toe holds an ostrich’s weight, while the smaller toe provides balance.

Size

While ostriches and emus are both very large birds, their size differential is one of their greatest physical discrepancies. 

Ostriches are the largest living birds. The enormous creatures grow up to 9 feet tall and weigh between 143 and 319 pounds. Ostriches are more than two feet taller than emus.

Emus are the biggest birds in Australia. They grow up to 6.2 feet tall and weigh between 39.6 and 132 pounds. 

Female emus are both taller and heavier than male emus, an uncommon occurrence in birds. Ostriches follow more traditional gender growth patterns. Males are markedly larger than females, sometimes weighing twice as much as their female counterparts.

Coloration

Both emus and ostriches are primarily dark-colored birds. However, emus are dark all over. Ostriches have white wing tips and often have lighter-colored tummies.

Necks

Long necks hold up both emu and ostrich heads. However, ostrich necks are bare. The stems measure about 40 inches long and have incredible flexibility. Ostrich’s necks are gray-blue. Male ostrich necks turn brighter during mating season.

Feathers cover emu necks. The feathers are thin, and an emu’s gray skin is visible beneath them. 

Home Base

Emu and ostriches call different parts of the world home. Emus are indigenous to Australia. The birds live all over the continent. Emu used to call Tasmania and King Island home, but are now extinct in those areas.

Ostriches hail from Africa. The enormous birds only occur natively in Africa and are spread out across the continent. 

Lifespan

Ostriches once again claim the edge on emu. The wild African birds live between 30 and 50 years. Ostriches raised in captivity can reach up to 70 years. 

Emus only live from 10 to 20 years in the wild. However, they can live up to 35 years in captivity. 

Mating

While this distinction is certainly not apparent to the naked eye, emus and ostriches differ greatly in breeding. 

Female emus are sexually dominant. They have multiple partners and compete with each other for masculine attention. Mothers are the primary caregivers. 

Ostriches are the opposite. Males vie with each other for female attention, inseminating multiple partners, then incubating the eggs and raising the chicks.

Even the resulting eggs differ. Emu eggs are blue-ish-green and weigh from 1 to 1.4 pounds. They measure 5 inches long. Female emus lay clutches of 5 to 25 eggs.

Ostrich eggs are cream-colored and weigh around 3 pounds. The eggs measure six inches long, and female ostriches lay 12 to 18 eggs in a clutch.

Speed

Both emus and ostriches are incredibly fast birds. However, ostriches win the race by quite a bit.

Ostrich Running 6+ Fascinating Differences Between Emus and Ostriches

Ostriches are the fastest land birds, reaching speeds of 43.5 miles per hour. The enormous birds have strides of 10 to 16 feet long. Ostriches can run 35 miles per hour for 30 minutes and a full hour. The world’s fastest bipeds could finish a marathon in 45 minutes. 

Emus can run 25 to 30 miles per hour for half an hour. An emu’s stride can reach up to 9 feet. 

Demeanor

While you shouldn’t approach either bird, ostriches are more aggressive than emus. Ostriches have often attacked humans and can kill a lion with their kicks. Emus only display aggression during the mating season.

Frequently Asked Questions

While we’ve covered a great deal of emu and ostrich ground, a few questions remain. The answers to these frequently asked questions further clarify the birds’ differences. 

What is the difference between an emu and an ostrich?

Emu and ostriches have different sizes, colors, feet, and speeds. The birds come from different parts of the world. They have different mating habits and attitudes.

Are ostriches and emus related?

Ostriches and emus belong to the same family of birds. Both come from the ratite family, making them relatives. 

Can an ostrich mate with an emu?

Technically, yes. Ostriches and emu have similar sex organs. However, the birds live in different parts of the world and are unlikely to encounter each other. Additionally, if emu and ostriches did mate, the union wouldn’t result in a baby. The birds are too different on a genetic level. 

What’s faster: an emu or an ostrich?

Ostriches are quite a bit faster than emus. Ostriches are the fastest bipeds in the world, running at speeds of 43.5 miles per hour. Emus reach up to 31 miles per hour. 

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