Are Emus Dangerous? – All The Facts You Need To Know


an emu foot with the text Are Emus Dangerous? in green

Emus are Australia’s largest bird and the second tallest bird in the world. They are ungainly, flightless birds with a rather dull-witted look to them. Are Emus dangerous though and should you be weary of them? This article will present all the facts you need to know about just how dangerous they are.

Emus are very dangerous birds. They are taller than most humans at around 6.2 ft and weigh between 30-55 kg (66-121 lbs). Their middle toe and claw can measure up to 15 cm (5.9 in.) and they use this to defend themselves by kicking at any threat. They also run at speeds of up to 48 km/h (30 mph).

In the remainder of the article, I will present you with more evidence of just how dangerous Emus are. I’ll show you visual proof of their physical arsenal, provide video footage of them in the wild, and present first-hand accounts from people who have been attacked by these birds.

three birdwatch world owl logos with their eyes looking down

Are Emus Dangerous? – Their Arsenal

Though Emus do not look particularly threatening in photographs, when you are close to them, they are very intimidating. Their size is the first thing that can make you feel uneasy.

Most of their height is due to their legs and long necks. However, it is still intimidating to have a bird standing taller than you as we are used to birds being tiny things that flutter around our gardens.

The Size Of An Emu

Emus range in height from 150 to 190 cm (4.9 – 6.2 ft). I am 175 cm (5’7“) tall so most Emus are taller than me!

Are Emus Feet Dangerous?

On each of their toes, Emus have sharp claws that can easily tear flesh. It is their middle toes that are the most threatening; up to 15 cm (5.9“) long, thick, and armed with a sharp, curved claw.

a close-up of an Emu's foot showing the huge center toe with a dangerous claw
An Emu foot close-up – image by Alphotographic from Getty Images Signature.

The feet of Emus are reminiscent of Dinosaurs and are designed for two things – defense and speed. Those two things combined make the Emu a very dangerous animal.

An Emu’s Stride And Speed

Emus can’t fly but they certainly can run. When walking, they have strides of around 100 cm (3.3ft) but when they break into a run their stride increases to as much as 275 cm (9ft).

At full speed, an Emu can run at 48 km/h (30 mph). The fastest human on the planet, Hussain Bolt, can run at a mere 37.58 km/h (23.35 mph) and I don’t know about you but I am nowhere near that fast. If the fastest human on Earth has no chance of outrunning an Emu, what chance do you or I have?

Are Emu’s Beaks Dangerous?

While an Emu can give you quite a nip, their beaks are not altogether dangerous. Their beaks are soft as they are adapted for grazing on the seeds, fruits, and shoots of the various plants they eat.

an emu with its beak wide open at the camera
An Emu with its beak wide open – Christian Jansky (User:Tschaensky), CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons. Edited from the original.
Are Emus Dangerous - Emus In The Wi...
Are Emus Dangerous - Emus In The Wild

Their feet are the main weapons they will use when attacking. Normally, any pecking they do is exploratory, trying to find out if something is edible. They don’t have arms and hands as we do so their beaks are what they use to explore the world around them. Watch this YouTube video from Robert Stott to see an example of this.

How To Tell If An Emu Is About To Attack

An Emu’s body language will tell you if they are feeling threatened and are about to attack. I will explain what to do if this ever happens to you later in the article.

If an Emu is about to attack it will raise its neck and puff out its neck feathers. You can see this behavior in this YouTube video from ABC Science. They do this to make themselves look bigger and more threatening. In addition to this, they will also hiss and may start to grunt which is something they do in response to a threat or territorial defense against a rival.

five emus fighting in a field
Emus fighting – image by John Carnemolla from Getty Images.

It’s common sense really. Just as you can tell when someone is unhappy with you, you should be able to notice the same signals in an Emu or any other animal. If you feel like the Emu is on-edge or threatened, then it most likely is and you should back away.

What To Do If You Are Attacked By An Emu

The most important thing you should NOT do if attacked by an Emu is run. Emus will give chase to anything that runs and as you have learned above, they are fast!

Quora user Bullatthegate suggests raising one arm above your head to pretend you have a nice long neck as they do. He suggests you then open and close your hand like a beak and hiss loudly. He states that this technique has worked for him in the past.

Bullatthegate also suggests keeping your other arm extended to push on the emu’s chest to keep it away from you. This will ensure the bird doesn’t get close enough to kick you.

Raising one arm like this seems to be a good idea to me (though you are going to look ridiculous!). By doing this, you are giving the emu the impression that you are a bigger bird and it should back away.

You should never attempt to grab an emu’s legs. They are very powerful and basically the most dangerous part of the animal. DO NOT GRAB THEIR LEGS! The image below shows the damage their claws can do to your clothing and skin.

a man with torn jeans and a scratch on his leg from an emu attack
The result of an Emu attack – image from Quora user Bullatthegate.

Emus can only kick in front of themselves. If you can, try to move so that you are to the side or at the back of the bird. This way you keep yourself out of the way of those huge toes and claws. This can be difficult as they do dance around a lot. The man in this video from Moyer Movies on YouTube tries this though he spends more time trying to run from the attacking emu.

One final thing Bullatthegate suggest is to lie down flat on the ground. If you do this apparently the bird will no longer see you as a threat. It may also stomp on you which would not be ideal so I don’t suggest doing this.

The odds of you being attacked by an emu in your lifetime are very slim. I have been in the presence of emus often and never had one even be aggressive towards me, let alone attack.

The emu in the photo below is one of a small mob I photographed at Wilson’s Promontory in Victoria in 2017. These birds were happily eating grass and had no interest in me whatsoever, aside from the odd glance to make sure I was keeping my distance.

an Emu walking in a grassy field
An Emu at Wilson’s Promontory, Vic. Aus. – image by Barry Callister Photography.

Has Anyone Ever Been Killed By An Emu?

There are no records of anyone ever being killed by an emu. As I have already mentioned, they are docile birds that will only attack if threatened or to defend themselves or their young.

Emus have been responsible for human deaths in road accidents. They have no road sense whatsoever and can run out onto the road unexpectedly. A man in his sixties died in October of 2014 after striking an emu on his motorbike north of Griffith in New South Wales.

The New York Post reports a man being attacked by a mob of emus after he jumped into their enclosure at an emu sanctuary. This was a case of instant karma as the man had just fled the scene of an accident. He had driven his truck into a storefront in Malmesbury, Wiltshire and he and his passenger both fled on foot.

emus behind the fence of an enclosure
Enter at your own risk! Emus in an enclosure – image by Lyndsey Sumpton from Getty Images.

The enclosure this man jumped into contained adult emus and young ones. It is no wonder he was attacked as the adults would have been protecting their young. It was later discovered the man had been driving while intoxicated so, in my opinion, he deserved a bit of a beat-down by some emus.

Conclusion

Emus are large, heavy birds with six toes, each containing a dagger-like claw. They are wild animals that will defend themselves if they feel threatened. They are also territorial and will naturally defend their young against any dangers.

If we take them from the wild and put them into enclosures where they can be fed and petted by humans all day long, this changes their behavior. They become bold and aggressive when they think food is available and this can lead to hostile interactions with people.

I find it hard to understand why anyone thinks it’s a good idea to put emus into open enclosures that humans can enter. In my opinion, they are dangerous and should not be approached, especially not by children.

If you see emus in the wild, please do not approach them. Keep your distance and simply enjoy their natural behavior from afar. If you don’t get close to them, you will never have to find out just how dangerous they can be.

References


barrycallisterphotography

Barry is a bird photographer and bird watcher with over 7 years of experience. He runs his own YouTube channel about photography and promotes his nature photography on his personal website barrycallisterphotography.com.au.

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