Australia has some of the most iconic animals like the kangaroo and koala bear. You may think all of Australia is the “outback” referring to the landscape, and much of the country is semi-arid and desert. But mountain ranges like the Blue Mountains and Snowy Mountains, warm-temperature and cool-temperature rainforests and miles and miles of sandy and rocky coastline also form the landscape of the country. These diverse habitats provide homes to thousands of species, including hundreds of unique bird species. Some countries choose an official national bird; others have a bird that represents the people of the nation. What bird do you think represents Australia the most? Read on to discover all about the national bird of Australia!
Does Australia Have a National Bird?
Australia does not have an official national bird. It does recognize one bird and one animal as “two of our best known wildlife symbols”. There are two native Australian animals chosen by the people of Australia to hold the shield on the national coat of arms. You may already have guessed the animal but what bird did they choose? The animal on the left of the shield is a kangaroo and the bird is the Emu. Many believe the Emu is the unofficial national bird of Australia.
What is an Emu?
An emu is a large, ostrich-like bird with long stilt legs and a feathery body. They are known to be the second largest living bird next to the ostrich. Emu’s can reach a height of 6 feet tall and weigh more than 100 pounds! They can be feisty birds and are known to use their hind legs to give a powerful kick if they are threatened. If they want to flee instead of fight they can take off quickly and reach speeds of 30 miles per hour! Emus are mostly gray in coloration with a darker head. One of the main differences between an emu and an ostrich is their coloration with ostrich having white tipped wing feathers and a light colored head and neck.
Where Do Emu Live?
Emu live across Australia in shrubland, savanna and grasslands. A subspecies of emu used to live on Tasmania but those are unfortunately now extinct. They spend their days in groups foraging for food like flowers, seeds, leaves grass, fruit and insects. In Australia they can be found in the center of the country along the plains and the tropical woods to the north. In western Australia the town of Exmouth reported emus casually walking down the street, out for a stroll, “Nothing to see here!”.
Are Emus Featured On the Australian Flag?
No. The Australian flag has the Union Jack design, based on the British flag, in the upper left corner. The rest of the flag is royal blue with 6 white stars. A larger white star, the Commonwealth star, is under the Union Jack design and five smaller stars representing the Southern Cross constellation are off to the right. National Flag Day is celebrated every year on September 3rd in Australia.
What Animals Are On the Coat of Arms of Australia?
The kangaroo and the emu are featured on the coat of arms of Australia. The kangaroo is on the left and the emu on the right of the center shield. Both the kangaroo and emu are common in almost all of the territories of Australia so they are a worthy animal representation. Some of the symbolism behind these two animals is that they do not easily move backward so they are honored as representing a nation that is moving forward.
There are also three animals represented on the shield of the coat of arms. The shield is divided into six images with each representing one of the states of Australia. The states that have animals on their emblem include:
- South Australia: Australian piping shrike (white-backed magpie)
- Western Australia: Black swan
- Tasmania: Lion
- New South Wales: a cross of Saint George with a small lion emblem in the center
Are Emu Endangered Animals?
No, emu are not an endangered animal. In fact, they have healthy populations across Australia. According to the IUCN the emu is an animal of “Least Concern” with an estimated population of 630,000-725,000. The life span of an average emu usually falls within the 5-10 year range.
What Endangered Animals Live in Australia?
There are some animals that used to exist in Australia that are now extinct in the country like desert rat-kangaroos, crescent nailtail wallabies and quolls (a carnivorous spotted marsupial about the size of a small cat). There are also a wide variety of species that are currently endangered, but still have hope. Here are some of the threatened or endangered animals in Australia:
- Orange-bellied parrot: a migratory ground parrot with a bright yellow chest, blue-tipped green wings and an orange belly
- Black-flanked rock wallaby: sometimes called warru, wallaby look like kangaroos but they are smaller and have shorter legs, the black-flanked ones have black tipped feet
- Mountain pygmy-possum: tiny mouse-size possum that live in the mountains around Mt Kosciuszko in New South Wales
- Gouldian Finch: beautifully colored bird with a red head, light blue collar, green back, lavender chest, bright yellow belly and blue tail feathers (you have to see one!)
Is the Great Barrier Reef Off the Coast of Australia?
Yes! The Great Barrier Reef is the largest reef in the world and is just off the coast of Australia in the northeast. The reef stretches for 1,429 miles and is teeming with colorful fish, stingrays, jellyfish, sea turtles and sharks. There are more than 1,500 different species swimming, hiding, chasing, breeding, feeding and living in the reef. Truly an underwater wonderland!
What Other Animals Live in Australia?
There is truly a fascinating array of animals that live in Australia. Besides the kangaroo and emu you will find some iconic animals like the koala and crocodile. Koalas live mainly on eucalyptuses leaves and are considered “Vulnerable” by the IUCN. Australia has both saltwater crocodiles and freshwater crocodiles. Saltwater crocodiles can get to be around 17 feet long and weigh 1000 pounds!
Here are some of the other animals commonly associated with Australia:
- Wombat: stocky, pouched furry marsupial about 40 inches long
- Dingo: an athletic looking rust colored wild dog
- Platypus: an awkwardly unique animal with a mix of features, duck-billed, webbed-feet, beaver tail and it lays eggs instead of live birth
- Tasmania Devil: a carnivorous marsupial with a reputation of having a short temper
- Cassowary: another unique looking animal in the same family as the emu, looks similar to an emu but has a large “helmet” on top of its head and beak, colorful blue head with red wattles
The colorful cassowary could have been chosen as a symbol of Australia but it seems the people of Australia are more endeared with the common emu. For now it is a powerful and worthy symbol of the country and its people.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © colacat/Shutterstock.com
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