Emu vs. Ostrich: 9 Key Differences Between These Giant Birds

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: November 24, 2021


Emus and ostriches are both flightless birds belonging to the family ratite. They are the largest living flightless birds, and thus are often confused.

It doesn’t help that they are so similar, with large eyes, charmingly dorky-looking faces, and long, slender necks and legs.

However, it’s not too difficult to tell these birds apart once you know what you’re looking for. They are different in size, color, habitat, and more. Even their eggs are much different to one another.

Learn everything there is to know about comparing these two birds below!

Comparing Ostrich vs Emu

Types of Big Birds
A male ostrich, Struthio camelus, in courtship display at the Masai Mara Park in Kenya.

Ostriches and emus are very similar birds, but they do have vast differences. One of these is that there is only one emu species, while there are two different species of ostrich: the common ostrich and the Somali ostrich.

EmuOstrich 
Size Up to 7 feet tall and 150 poundsUp to 9 feet tall and 320 pounds
Lifespan10-20 years30-50 years
Habitat AustraliaAfrica
Wings Small, discreet wingsLarge wings with a maximum wingspan over 6 feet
Feet3 toes2 toes
EggsDark green; 1-1.4 poundsCream; 3 pounds
DietMostly herbivoresOmnivores
SpeedUp to 30 mphUp to 45 mph
ColorDark brown to blackDark brown to back body with white patches. Usually pink or white on legs, face, and neck

The 9 key Differences Between Ostriches and Emus

1.     Ostriches are Much Larger

Emus are pretty big birds. They stand up to 7 feet tall and can weigh as much as 150 pounds. However, Ostriches get even larger!

Ostriches can grow up to 9 feet in height and weigh as much as 320 pounds.

2.     Emus Live Shorter Lives

Types of Big Birds
Emus can travel great distances, and when necessary can sprint at 50 km/h (31 mph); they forage for a variety of plants and insects, but have been known to go for weeks without eating.

Unfortunately, emus only live around 10-20 years. The oldest emu ever recorded was 38 years old.

Ostriches, on the other hand, live very long lives of 30-50 years. In captivity, some ostriches live over 60 years.

3.     They Live on Different Continents

Both of these flightless birds live in hot habitats, but they are in very different parts of the world. Ostriches live in the deserts of Africa, while emus live throughout most of Australia.

4.     Emus have Smaller Wings

An emu’s wings are more difficult to spot than ostrich wings. One reason for this is their size: the emu’s wingspan is much smaller.

Coloration also plays a role. While ostriches often have white-tipped wings that contrast against their darkly-colored bodies, emu coloration is more consistent.

5.     Ostriches Only have Two Toes on Each Foot

Ostrich vs. Emu - Ostrich Feet
Ostriches only have two tows on their feet!

A unique trait of the ostrich is their two-toed feet. Most birds, including emus, have three toes per foot.

Ostrich feet are also designed for speed, with long tendons that allow them to run up to 45 miles per hour.

6.     Emu Eggs are Smaller

Ostrich vs Emu - An Emu Egg
An emu egg, notice its distinctive green color!

If you are around a flightless bird who has just laid eggs, it will be incredibly easy to tell them apart by looking at the shells. Emu eggs are dark green in color and small, weighing around one pound.

Ostrich eggs are cream-colored and weigh up to three pounds.

7.     Ostriches are Omnivores

What Do Ostriches Eat
Ostriches are omnivores, eating mostly plant material, but also eating insects and small lizards.

Ostriches eat mostly plants, but insects and small reptiles are also a part of their diet.

Emus are usually herbivores that eat seeds, fruits, and flowers. They may eat the occasional insect if the chance presents itself, however.

What Do Emus Eat
Emus eat a diet that’s more herbivorous than ostriches

8.     Ostriches Run up to 45 Miles per Hour

Emus are a bit slower than ostriches, running at top speeds of 30 miles per hour. Ostriches have long tendons in their feet that allow them to run up to 45 miles per hour!

9.     Emus are Darker in Color

As we discussed above, ostriches sometimes have white wing tips. They might also have white bellies. Emus, on the other hand, are dark all over.

Even their face, neck, and feet are darkly colored. Ostriches tend to have pink or white necks, faces, and feet by comparison.