Be Your Own Birder

Wednesday Smile – The Emu War!

When we think about birds, we don’t often think of battles other than perhaps discouraging bully birds at our feeders, protecting nesting birds from invasive species or winning battles to preserve habitat or otherwise conserve birds. But in Australia in 1932, there was an outright war against birds, complete with soldiers, campaigns and machine guns (nope, I’m not making that up).

The birds in question were emus, which had discovered newly expanded wheat fields as ideal habitat along their seasonal migration. These large, flightless birds damaged crops as well as fences, which let other pests such as rabbits into the fields for even more damage. Military oversight was enlisted to help cull the destructive birds, with the idea that they’d also make good target practice for military training.

Emu WarRight from the start, however, the birds managed to avoid the military’s maneuvers, even evading traps and ambushes thanks to misunderstandings about the birds’ behavior as well as poor weapon use. As the campaigns against the birds continued, better organized flocks outsmarted and evaded the attacks. The military persisted, but with only limited success, and the efforts were eventually halted with the emus the victor.

Bird culls are occasionally necessary, under controlled circumstances and with great care taken to be sure the overall bird population is not dramatically impacted. This is a unique and hilarious situation, however – and a unique one for the birds and military alike. And not to fear, Australia no longer culls emus in this way, and instead better types of fencing have been engineered to keep the birds out of agricultural fields. Today, the emu population is estimated at more than 625,000 birds happily roaming throughout Australia without fear from machine guns. If that isn’t something to smile about, I don’t know what is!

Emu Smiling

Emu Smiling – Photo by Jon Bunting

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