Emu vs. Ostrich: What’s the Difference?

Emu vs ostrich

With both birds boasting impressive size and speed, the discussion between the emu and the ostrich seems endless. However, there are differences between these two species that you might not know about.

Emus are the second-largest birds by height, known for their soft brown feathers and smaller stature compared to ostriches. Ostriches, the largest birds in the world, have a striking appearance with long legs and necks, and males featuring black and white plumage.

In terms of running speed, emus can reach up to 30 mph, while ostriches are faster, capable of reaching speeds up to 43 mph.

In this article, we will look at the main differences between ostriches and emus. This way, you’ll be able to take part in the conversation about these flightless birds without getting confused. Let’s get started!

Summary of Emu vs. Ostrich

Emu isolated on white backgroundOstrich in white background
1.3–1.9 m (4.2–6.2 ft)
1.7–2.7 m (5.7–9 ft)
75–121 lbs (34–54.9 kg)
200–300 lbs (90.7–136.1 kg)
Oblong-shaped with a shorter neck, legs, and wings
More rounded with longer neck, legs, and wings
Bluish-green to nearly black
Males are black and white, while females appear grayish-brown
Speed & Gait:
30–31 mph
Speed & Gait:
30–43 mph
Curious, docile, calm, and sociable
Active, aggressive, and territorial
Leaves, tender roots, small rodents, reptiles, grasses, fruits, native plants, seeds, flowers, and insects
Leafy greens, roots, flowers, bulbs, grasses, grains, insects, mice, fruits, seeds, insects, lizards, and carrion
5–35 years
30–70 years
December to January, laying 20–30 eggs per season
June to November, laying 10–16 eggs per season

Key Differences Between Emu and Ostrich

Two ostriches side by side

It is not surprising that it can be difficult to distinguish between emus and ostriches. They are both big birds with strong, large bodies — nearly identical in size and shape. Yet, they are still quite different in many ways.

1. Origin and Natural Habitat

Emus call the varied landscapes of Australia their home. They generally thrive in grasslands, dry forests, and semi-deserts. They are also common among the eucalyptus forests and vast sand plains, adapting to a wide range of environments down under.

Ostriches, on the other hand, are synonymous with Africa’s vast expanses. To be specific, these birds are found in savannahs, woodlands, deserts, plains, semi-deserts, dry grasslands, and scrubs.

Fun Fact: A surprising twist in the ostriches’ history reveals their Asian roots. Fossil records indicate that ostriches once roamed the Northern Hemisphere during the early Cenozoic era.

2. Size and Weight

Emus, while impressive in size, are smaller compared to ostriches. They typically reach heights between 4.2 and 6.2 feet, which makes them tall but not towering.

These Australian birds also tip the scales at a lighter weight. They range from around 75 to 121 pounds.

Meanwhile, ostriches are known as the world’s largest birds, a title they hold due to their extraordinary size.

In particular, they stand between 5.7 and 9 feet tall, dwarfing many other bird species. This height is paired with a significant weight range of 200 to 300 pounds.

3. Physical Appearance

Emus sport an oblong body, making them distinct in the bird world. In addition, their necks, legs, and wings are shorter when compared to ostriches, which fit their more compact frame.

Additionally, you’ll notice that emus have smaller, reddish eyes and a notably larger, more rounded head topped with a triangular bill.

In contrast, ostriches display a more rounded body frame complemented by longer necks, legs, and wings. Yet, despite their size, these heavy birds have relatively smaller heads and wider beaks.

Fun Fact: Ostrich eyes are among the largest of any land animal, each about five centimeters in diameter.


When you compare these two birds more closely, you’ll see that emus have very short wings, almost hidden and not easily noticeable.

On the flip side, ostriches possess two prominent wings that cannot be overlooked, each extending to a wingspan of approximately 6.6 feet.

But note that these wings are not used for flying. Instead, they play a crucial role in the balance and courtship display of male and female ostriches.

Watch this adorable video to see how ostriches use their wings to dance:


Surprisingly, emus are distinguished by their three-toed feet, which are generally darker. For your reference, below is a photo of an emu’s foot:

Emus feet up close

Ostriches, in contrast, have evolved to possess just two toes on each foot, accompanied by long tendons. Here is an image of an ostrich’s foot:

Ostrich feet up close

As you can see, ostriches also possess larger claws than emus.


Emus have much shorter necks compared to ostriches, with a distinctive bluish tint. Their necks are also often covered in feathers, which make them appear thicker and well-suited to the varied climates of Australia.

The following is a photo of an emu displaying its fuzzy neck:

Emu displaying its fuzzy neck

Meanwhile, ostriches retain longer, pinkish necks that are notably naked and thinner. This feature is likely an adaptation to Africa’s hot climate, as it helps dissipate heat.

Here is an image of a bare-necked ostrich:

Bare necked ostrich

Fun Fact: Ostriches have an evolutionary link to long-necked sauropod dinosaurs. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that both share similar neck flexibility.


Emus possess unique double-shafted feathers that lack barbules, causing their barbs to hang loosely. This gives their plumage a hair-like appearance when viewed from a distance.

The photo below shows an example of this unusual feathering:

Emu with unusual feathering

Ostrich feathers, in contrast, appear shaggy and are known for their loose, soft, and fluffy texture.

Here is an image of a male ostrich flaunting its wooly feathers:

Male ostrich flaunting its wooly feathers

It is evident that ostrich feathers appear cotton-like, while those of the emu resemble human hair.


Emus display a spectrum of coloration, ranging from bluish-green to nearly black. This overall dark palette effectively camouflages them within the Australian landscape.

Contrastingly, ostriches exhibit sexual dimorphism in their pigmentation. In particular, males display black and white feathers, while females wear a subtler grayish-brown plumage.

4. Speed and Gait

Emus may not be the sprinters of the bird world, but they’re certainly no slouches. They can reach speeds of up to 31 miles per hour. Their movement is marked by a bipedal gait, with their necks leaning forward.

Conversely, ostriches outpace emus. They clock in at impressive speeds ranging between 30 and 43 miles per hour. They also run bipedally but with their necks remaining upright.

To really see the difference, here’s a clip of an emu running:

On the flip side, below is a video of a group of ostriches running:

Ostriches running beside car - Ostrich chasing in Ethiopia

5. Temperament and Behavior

Emus are known for their calm and docile nature, often displaying sociable and inquisitive behavior. In contrast, ostriches are active and can be quite aggressive, particularly when defending their territory.

As an avid birdwatcher, I’ve had many close encounters with both emus and ostriches.

During my time in the Australian outback, I approached a small herd of emus. They cocked their heads curiously and allowed me to get quite close before slowly wandering away.

Meanwhile, when tracking ostriches in the African savannah, I had to be careful; these large birds can be pretty territorial and feisty. They may charge toward you if you get too near.

But note that when they’re gathered with the same species, like during mating seasons, male emus and male ostriches display similar behaviors. They fight over mates by kicking each other with their powerful legs.

6. Diet and Feeding Habits

Emus have a diverse diet. They feast on leaves, roots, lizards, grasses, fruits, seeds, and insects. Yet, despite being omnivores, they’re selective, often showing picky eating habits that influence their choice of food.

On the other hand, ostriches are less fussy. They have a more opportunistic approach to feeding. They eat leafy greens, roots, flowers, bulbs, grasses, grains, insects, mice, fruits, and occasionally carrion.

Fun Fact: Did you know that both of these birds use unique methods to aid digestion? Emus are known to ingest charcoal and stones, while ostriches often consume sand and pebbles.

7. Lifespan

Emus experience a wide range in lifespan. They can live anywhere from 5 to 35 years. Factors such as environment, diet, and predation significantly influence their longevity.

However, it should be noted that the lifespan of ostriches is longer than that of emus. They have been known to live up to 70 years old in captivity and up to 30 years old in the wild.

8. Breeding and Eggs

Emus enter their breeding season from December to January, during which they can lay a substantial clutch of 20 to 30 eggs. These eggs then undergo an incubation period lasting between 50 and 60 days.

Ostriches have a different breeding timeline, with their season stretching from June to November. They typically lay fewer eggs than emus, with clutches ranging from 10 to 16 eggs. Plus, their incubation period is shorter, at 36 to 45 days.

Frequently Asked Questions

Group of emus walking on sand

Are Emus Faster Than Ostriches?

While emus can run up to 31 miles per hour, ostriches can run faster than that. To be specific, they can reach remarkable speeds between 30 and 43 miles per hour.

Are Emus as Aggressive as Ostriches?

Both emus and ostriches display territorial behaviors that can lead to aggression within their species. However, their attitudes differ when it comes to human interaction.

Basically, it has been noted that ostriches tend to be more aggressive toward people. Meanwhile, emus are comparatively docile and exhibit a curious streak around humans.

Are Ostriches and Emus Related?

Though both emus and ostriches are flightless birds classified under the ratite group, they are not closely related.

Ostriches fall under the order Struthioniformes and family Struthionidae. In contrast, emus belong to the order Casuariiformes and family Casuariidae.

So, what are your thoughts on the differences between ostriches and emus? Share your opinions in the comments! Likewise, if you have any questions, feel free to drop them below!

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