Beware of Emus!

Emus and The Great Outdoors

A.V. Walters

I have a friend who, when her last kid headed off to college, remodeled the newly vacant bedroom, making a sewing and project room for herself. After twenty-two years of putting every one else first, the house, and her life, underwent extensive renovation. It was a shock to the kid when Thanksgiving rolled around, and the room had been, as the French put it, “repurposed.”

Last weekend we came home from a grueling day of volunteering on a day that had started out nippy, but quickly warmed to blistering. The night was clear and warm, and the emus had spent the long day outside. I went into their little bathroom retreat to do the daily clean up before letting them in for the night. Needless to say, it was, as usual, filthy. We looked out at our frolicking prehistoric birds and decided it was time. I fed them outdoors, an odd ritual because they’re grazers. Outside they are surrounded by food, but it made me feel better to give them their kibble. They haven’t been inside, since.

Her neck has lost almost all markings

Her neck has lost almost all markings

Emus and The Great Outdoors

He still has his baby speckles

I spent a full day cleaning out their room. Rick vacuumed and mopped areas where they’d been and I washed out everything from the back entry clear through to the front door. Emus, no more! The final act was to take the sign down from the bathroom door. It was liberating to return the house to mammal-only occupation. I’m glad we did it, and we’d do it again, just not inside!

The emus seem very happy in the front yard. It’s a big area, and a perfect emu training ground for the open pastures with the sheep. Outside, they look smaller but every now and then I note the changes. (The effect is exaggerated because we haven’t weed-whacked since the birds have been out front.) Their heads can easily reach my waist (and curiously, pluck my neatly tucked-in shirt from my jeans.) Initially they cowered in fear at any new thing. Now, when the loud and lumbering dairy truck goes by, they chase it along the fence, as though their patrol activities had actually run it off. Yesterday a feral cat jumped over the fence and, with apparent glee, the emus gave chase. Nothing in that cat’s experience had prepared it for the charging birds. A possible dinner had now turned into two, possible diners! From the birds’ perspective, they’ve been hanging with cats for their whole lives, but none had ever been game enough to give them a real run for their money. Our cats are smarter than that. (Well, and a little intimidated.)

He goes into the emu roll!

He goes into the emu roll!

The emus still like to hang out with us humans. I sit and drink my morning coffee on the front steps. I give them kibble morning and evening, though they could really survive only on the greens out front. They hover, looking for treats, a stroke on the neck, or gently pecking at any speck or spot on our clothes. It’s emu grooming—I guess it means we’re family. They like to tug softly on the ends of my hair. They are particularly fond of pecking at the contrasting wrist-bands on one of Rick’s shirts. The other day one caught a glitter and, in a flash, snatched one of my earrings! Thank god it didn’t taste very good and she spat it right back out. I’d hate to consider the alternative retrieval methods.

Scruffy!

Scruffy!

These days, the emus are looking teenage-scruffy. They’re losing their baby feathers (and with them, the markings by which we’ve identified them.) Underneath we can glimpse the sleek dark feathers to come. As chicks they looked like Scandinavian rugs but now, they look a little moth-eaten. We can still tell them apart, though. The presumed female has gotten much larger. More than that, they have distinct personalities. The female is more assertive, while the presumed male is reserved and gentle. He eats constantly, a nibble here, a nibble there, and barely touches my hand when I give him treats. But, she wolfs down her food! (Just like her mother!) So much so, that sometimes she needs to go and get a drink of water to wash the bolus of kibble down that long neck. Our gender assumptions are based, in large part, on the personality traits of the emu gender reversal. We shall see, well down the road, if we are right.

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