Just for fun . . .
Although it’s several years since any ‘formal’ observations have been made, the emus are here most of the time, so informal observations are made:
Interesting! For eight or nine years I’ve wondered why Felicity (et al.) haven’t figured out to drink from the bird bath in the garden: it’s clean water right in front of them. But Uno Chick worked it out when still small. Well, a couple of days ago Felicity saw Uno Chick (the Emu) drinking from the bird bath, and immediately started doing it herself.
Next: we’ve had an odd couple of seasons – ‘winter’ rain right through what is normally spring. Well, there sure are a lot of emus moving! almost like the flocking-up of autumn. Here’s the roll call:
Felicity turned up in spring with a consort: unusual, the forming of breeding-pairs usually happens in autumn. Her consort is ‘Handsome Eddie,’ a fine big bird: great plumage and a ‘classical’ configuration of colour and feathers on his head. He’s now most energetically involved in defending the house-clearing, and has the habit of raising his upper-body feathers on both his chest and the back of his neck.
Number One is here: she also turned up, but without a consort, in spring. We don’t know if she’s ever bred: had an accident some years ago, and then left for two-and-a-half years; and although she has been temporarily ‘in command’ of the house-clearing on several occasions, I doubt she’ll ever breed here. (She left in autumn last year; returned in spring – so she maaay well have bred, and has come home for the great food here.)
Eric! I now wonder about the fertility of the eggs that females lay. Eric the Emu has been under some sort of observation for almost a decade. In that time, he’s brought clutches of three, then two, then one, now nine! I still understand that the attrition of chicks is high, but I wonder if the size of clutches is also much determined by the number of eggs that actually hatch.
[We saw six (?) with Boy Emu, and I think six or seven with Noddy Big Ears the following year.]
That is, perhaps Eric’s female(s?) laid a really big clutch of eggs last winter, and all of those hatched – a breeding home-run, so to speak.
Whatever, Eric Plus Nine have made for wonderful observation: the chicks have become tame so very fast, and now – after just five or six visits to the house-clearing – come to within almost a metre of me.
Uno Chick! Uno Chick is now 26 months old, a scrawny but wonderfully cheeky adult. I guess Uno is male because females tend to give themselves away with vocal-sac vocalisations. It’s interesting to see – with both Uno and Number One – how the ‘re-taming’ progresses. (I was flabbergasted when this scrawny young male turned up in the clearing, and ran straight up to me, to eat wheat from my hand. It took me a few minutes to figure out who it was.)
Tame-wild emus can be identified from both physical markings and personality. However, the physical-markings thing can be odd because the birds change their plumage. Even Eric’s trade-mark scar healed over the years.
So as odd as it may sound to readers, ‘personality’ is a primary marker. In the case of the birds here, it’s primarily the patterns of their movement through the garden/back yard. The back yard has no back fence – leads straight onto the bush. Otherwise, there are two gates and the car port.
Each bird has a different pattern of how it will move through these entrances, and although Uno Chick’s very dark eyes made me pretty sure it was him, the fact that just a couple of days later he came into the back yard via the side gate is a clear indicator.
[Tee hee: Greedy Emu knew no fear . . . but she never came through the car port. Felicity knew this, and would make fun of Greedy by threatening her from the far side of the car port.]
There is an historic sorta ‘traffic jam’ going on here at present. On several occasions, when Eric Plus turns up, there are fourteen emus here. It drives Felicity – the commanding bird – quite nuts, and she and Handsome Eddie race about the clearing, strutting and foomphing and madly chasing the other birds.
A Note on Interactions Between Parenting-Males and other birds:
these thoughts go back some years. It’s fun to say that, without a doubt, there’s not an emooo within miles that Eric can’t whup (except his own daughter, Greedy the Emu, whom we guess is deceased: R.I.P. Greedy) But it seems – and it makes perfect sense – that parenting males will back down in order to prevent chicks being injured.
Whatever, it’s hilarious to me to see weaker birds like Handsome Eddie threatening Eric, and Eric backing down. It’s gonna be a shock if H.E. ever comes in contact with Eric when Eric is not parenting: he’ll get such a whipping.
[There’s the episode, some years ago, when Eric had Alpha and Omega Chicks, when a wild bird came out of the bush and drove Eric and the chicks off the apricot tree (a tremendous source of food). At that time, to my amazement, both Eric and the chicks plonked down on the ground, signaling submission. I’d seen a couple of wild emus do this doing this during big fights around the fig tree, but not understood it.]
And today I saw that a wild male with two chicks had snuck up to the plum tree by the fence: I wish that I could still make formal observations. And just hours later a wild pair cruised past the window.
The Varieties of Territorial Defence:
on one side of the scale is the case in which the commanding bird (likely a female) will hear an interloper emu, and rush straight into the bush, to drive it off. On many occasions, I’ve watched a lone bird or a breeding-pair or even a small group ‘see off’ a group of interlopers, ‘escorting’ them sometimes two hundred yards from the house-clearing.
On the other side of the scale are the ‘mexican standoffs’ in which, I assume, the resident bird knows it can’t whup the newcomer outright, so it ‘takes up station’ to hold the interloper off. These interactions come in amazing variety. Sometimes the home-base birds and the interlopers stand stock still opposite each other for long periods. Sometimes both players move, over hours and days sometimes, around the perimeter of the clearing, with the interloper hoping to ‘get on’ and get some food, and the local bird stolidly blocking its path.
It’s fine to see the co-operation of the breeding-pairs in this business. I now, after eight years, understand ‘emu’ fairly well.
One apparent feature of the vocalisations is how clearly the females can communicate to the males. Females can certainly call a male to eat. And in the case of territorial disputes, the male will, in response to the female’s call, snap straight into co-ordinated defence mode. If you’re an emu lover, it’s a fine thing to see a breeding-pair both walking sideways, both vocalizing, both with chest and back feathers raised, sometimes walking in unison – ‘marching.’ It’s wonderful to watch.
There’s a Ph.D. waiting for the ornithologist who undertakes the massive task of mapping the visual and audio interactions of emus in a sizeable area. Those of you with captive and pet birds miss out on this aspect of emu behavior: in the wild, any emu or group of emus is a unit in an unending ballet of interactions. I’ve seen 64 emus pass through the house-clearing here in a single afternoon. Their calls are audible to birds on nearby pastures, and those nearby birds are audible to birds further afield, and all players make decisions, in part, on where they’re going, on the basis of this information.
[Emus talk to themselves. Most often at dusk, as they head off to roost. Females talk to the house at night when I put the lights on to go to the loo. ‘Is that you, house? I’m an emu, sitting nearby in the scrub!’]
Final Note: another Ph.D. awaits the scholar ready to do the hard yards on how emus develop their ‘memory maps.’ Tidbits of data over the years has convinced me that, although emus are a dumb as porridge in some respects, they know their way around much larger amounts of bush than I think we might guess.
The snippets of data on this have come from disparate observations.
For example, you can sometimes figure that a tame-wild bird of mine is ‘operating’ from a base somewhere else, visiting once or twice a week. Now, I chanced to see Felicity emu actually arrive with Noddy Big Ears Emu the year they bred here. She had been ‘operating’ from the south for some time – which involves crossing the bitumen road.
Now, we now the water sources to the south of the house-clearing, and in summer they are limited, which tells us a lot about where the birds can and can’t roam. (It tells us everything about where they can and can’t roam!) So I guess that Noddy was a bird from ‘over at Oudman’s,’ which means he himself likely knows the National Park; and the N.P. has little water, so we guess that he had travelled considerable distances around the N.P. So, when Felicity and Noddy formed a pair – in the months in which they travel together before they start staking out territory in autumn – it’s likely that each was showing the other its territory.
One other datum is the travels of the parenting males. It seems that males come to breed on the female’s turf, and leave with the chicks when they hatch. Now, they may turn up again here a month later or six months later.
Well, let’s look again at Felicity as a chick: we know she’s from Eric’s winter 2008 clutch. So, Eric formed a breeding-pair with Mrs Eric in mid-2008. Let’s suppose that they met to the west, on ‘the 500 [acres].’ Emus can travel across my place, and across the 500, and then across a dirt road into a nature reserve to the north west. And we’ll think of that north west territory as sorta separated from the National Park because there is a row of farms and the highway between the two (but my place is a corridor . . . ).
Suppose then that Mrs. Eric took Eric into new territory to the north west. Then they returned here to breed. Then Eric took the new clutch, including Felicity, off to see the world.
Which quite likely included that north west territory (which contains wetlands with peripheral pastures that an emu does well to know the location of – there’s nothing like that in some areas of the National Parks.)
Okay, so Felicity Chick learns some of her mum’s territory courtesy of her dad, Eric. Then Eric brings the chicks here. So Felicity learns this territory. Four years later, she meets Noddy, say, three or four miles south of here, which is the likeliest spot ‘cause of the route involved. (There are fences around the blue gum places.)
Then Noddy takes Felicity into his territory – which likely includes areas that HIS dad learned while travelling before breeding with HIS mum.
Now it’s very likely that at some time Noddy met and travelled with birds from the wetlands to the south west of my place. These wetlands necessarily serve as a ‘hub’ in that birds can radiate out into large areas of the National Park in spring, when there are still water holes and creeks containing water, but must withdraw, as summer bites, to the permanent water of the wetlands.
So we may quite reasonably surmise that if Noddy mated with a female from the far side of the wetlands in a year before he met Felicity, he could take Felicity that far if there has been rain in the area.
So, okay, we’re taking data from different males – but these males may well breed eight or ten times in their lives, and likely with different females each time. So when the male leaves the nest with the chicks, he may take them to almost anywhere on his memory map, which we now see may extend from the wetlands to the north of the farms west of me, around through my place, across the road through the Oudman’s to the N.P., then to the wetlands further to the west, then to other birds’ territory even FURTHER west. And note that these aren’t desert emus, whose territories we assume to be many many times larger.