Spotting birdlife and wildlife is a highlight of the Big Lap for many grey nomads, and one of the highlights of the highlight is seeing a mob of emus galloping across the Outback.
In Western Australia, the giant birds migrate from the south-west to the north-east in summer but, in the east, their movements in the east are a lot less predictable.
However, the ABC reports that large numbers of emus are currently migrating south into New South Wales due to heavy rainfall earlier this year.
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 told the ABC. “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 … 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.”
The NSW Government says about 5% of NSW is now considered drought-affected, compared to 100% in January last year. Meanwhile, nearly 65% of Queensland remains fully drought-declared, according to the Queensland government.
Of course, emus aren’t always a speck on the distant horizon. A few years ago, the Outback Queensland town of Longreach faced an ‘emu-regency’ as large groups of thirsty feathered giants have invaded. A seven-year dry spell, and a 45-degree heatwave was enough to send the birds in search of water.
And a similar thing also happened in Quilpie.
Grey nomads have also previously seen emus wandering through campsites keeping an opportunistic eye out for something to eat or drink.
“I’ll never forget a few giant emus marauding around us at a park in Exmouth in WA,” said long-term traveller Cynthia Kay. “It was quite a few years ago but I’ll never forget the look in their eyes …. scary!”