Hello, Neighbor: Emus Take Over Australian Town

Shopkeepers in any downtown area love foot traffic, right? It’s the key to business.

But what if that traffic isn’t full of potential shoppers. What if, instead, it’s a flock of large birds strutting their stuff down the sidewalks?

That’s the scene these days in Longreach, Queensland; an influx of emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae) is starting to take over the town.

“They were waltzing up and down the street, drinking from the puddles and having a nibble in the garden beds at a council redevelopment site down the road. They were making themselves right at home,” gallery and coffee shop owner Deb Scott told The Australian.

Local experts say the emus are looking for food, but drivers are more concerned that they’re going to end up as road kill—someone forgot to teach them to look both ways before crossing the street.

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 5.07.43 PM“They are taking absolutely no notice of the people, or the cars or dogs,” Longreach Mayor Joe Owens told the Australian Broadcasting Company. “When they are crossing the street, people have to stop for them. They just toddle across as they please.”

And that’s posing a challenge for drivers, considering their long legs allow them to sprint at 31 miles per hour and cover up to nine feet in a single stride. The largest bird native to Australia, they have soft brown feathers, but they never take flight. (Related: “The Great Emu Caper.”)

The emus have been circling the outlying areas of town for a few months, the ABC reports, but this is the first time they’ve ventured into the more densely populated town center.

Under normal conditions, emus stick to the brush, feasting on seeds, grass, and insects. They can last several weeks without a meal, but higher-than-average temperatures and an extended drought have left them on the hunt.

“The [kangaroos] and the emus are just desperately seeking something to eat and a bit of greenery, so they are marching in and getting it wherever they can,” naturalist Angus Emmott told ABC.

As the drought continues, there’s no telling when the emus will leave the main areas of town, but one thing’s for sure: It’s not every day that you get to share a sidewalk with an emu.

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Danielle Elliot is a multimedia producer and writer who earned her chops reporting and producing for networks, start-ups, and everything in between. A graduate of the University of Maryland, she covered tennis and Olympic figure skating for a few years before earning an M.A. in Science and Health Journalism at Columbia University. Follow her on Twitter @daniellelliot.