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Emu migration underway across outback, after replenishing rains in NSW

Monday September 20, 2021 - 01:18 EST
ABC image
Emus can sense where rain has fallen, and are heading south. - ABC

Emus in eastern Australia have returned to their long march across the outback as rains replenish drought-affected areas and habitats.

Near the small town of Hebel on the Queensland-NSW border, mobs of emus can be seen heading south towards flowing rivers and sprouting green grass.

Rain-driven migration

University of Southern Queensland associate professor of wildlife management Peter Murray said the migration of emus in eastern Australia was driven by resources.

"This tells me there are places where the food is running out, maybe because they haven't had a lot of rain in the past three to six months," Dr Murray said.

"For some reason, emus seem to be able to sense where the rain has fallen and they're moving towards those areas where there's more grass and food."

Dr Murray said emus were nomadic and not typically social animals, and only congregated for food-driven migrations or to rear young chicks.

"The only time they're social is when they find the need to migrate, and they congregate on the migration," he said.

"It's unusual."

The southern migration into NSW is believed to be driven by heavy rainfall earlier this year.

About 5 per cent of NSW is considered drought-affected now, compared to 100 per cent in January last year, according to the NSW government. 

Meanwhile, nearly 65 per cent of Queensland remains fully drought-declared, according to the Queensland government.

East and west migrations

The migratory pattern of emus is also somewhat mysterious.

Emus in Western Australia follow seasonal migratory patterns, moving south-west in the winter and north-east in summer.

Emus in eastern Australia followed a less predictable pattern of partial migration and experts were not sure why.

"If I could answer that question I'd make a lot of money," Dr Murray said.

"There isn't a clear answer to that, and it just seems to be one of the weird things about Australian wildlife."

Dr Murray said migrations in eastern Australia were more sporadic and linked to the availability of food and water.

"When you have a congregation of them, obviously there's a resource problem where they were and they're moving to where they can get food," he said.


© ABC 2021

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