Species Profile and Threats Database

For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Extinct as Dromaius ater
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Declaration under s178, s181, and s183 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of threatened species, List of threatened ecological communities and List of threatening processes (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) [Legislative Instrument] as Dromaius minor.
List of Migratory Species (13/07/2000) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000b) [Legislative Instrument] as Dromaius minor.
Amendment to the list of threatened species under section 178 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (11/04/2007) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2007f) [Legislative Instrument] as Dromaius ater.
List of Migratory Species - Amendment to the list of migratory species under section 209 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (26/11/2013) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2013af) [Legislative Instrument] as Dromaius minor.
State Government
    Documents and Websites
TAS:Dromaius ater (King Island Emu): Species Management Profile for Tasmania's Threatened Species Link (Threatened Species Section (TSS), 2014un) [State Action Plan].
State Listing Status
TAS: Listed as Extinct (Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 (Tasmania): September 2012 list) as Dromaius ater
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Extinct (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
NGO: Listed as Extinct (The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010)
Scientific name Dromaius ater [66724]
Family Dromaiidae:Struthioniformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (Vieilot, 1817)
Infraspecies author  
Reference Christidis, L. & Boles, W.E. The Taxonomy and Species of Birds of Australia and its Territories. RAOU Monograph 2.
Other names Dromaius minor [1094]
Distribution map Species Distribution Map not available for this taxon.
Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Dromaius ater

Common name: King Island Emu

The species is conventionally accepted (Christidis & Boles 1994; Marchant & Higgins 1990; Parker 1984b), though it was formerly considered to be the same species of emu that also occurred on Kangaroo Island in South Australia (Condon 1975; Mathews 1911; Parker 1984b), or a subspecies of the Emu (mainland) (Dromaius novehollandiae) of mainland Australia (Campbell 1903c; Green 1989).

There are few detailed descriptions of the extinct King Island Emu. The species was a small emu (about 1.4 m tall, and weighing about 20.5–23 kg) with black plumage; juveniles were said to have had greyish plumage. It was formerly recorded singly or in pairs (Brasil 1914).

The King Island Emu was endemic to King Island in western Bass Strait (Marchant & Higgins 1990). The species was last recorded in the early 19th century, probably soon after 1802 (Brasil 1914).

There have not been any comprehensive surveys for this species. There have, however, been a number of ornithological surveys on King Island since the King Island Emu became extinct (e.g. Green & McGarvie 1971). Many Birds Australia Bird Atlas surveys were conducted on King Island between 1977–1981, and 1998–2002 (Barrett et al. 2003; Blakers et al. 1984), but there has been no sign of the species.

The King Island Emu was considered to be common and reported to have occurred in 'great numbers' (Alexander 1921a; Brasil 1914), but no population estimate was ever made.

The species was last recorded on King Island in 1802, having declined to extinction rather rapidly (Brasil 1914).

There is no information regarding the generation length of the King Island Emu. The generation time of the extant Emu (mainland) is estimated at four years (Garnett & Crowley 2000).

The King Island Emu occurred near lagoons and along beaches (Brasil 1914), and occasionally in dense forest which was described as 'impossible to get any way in' (Alexander 1921a), though it is unknown whether this constituted a refuge habitat. It was suggested that subfossils recovered from sand-dunes were the remains of King Island Emus that had sought refuge there, possibly during a fire (Legge 1907).

There are no published records of the King Island Emu occurring in association with any other listed threatened species.

The age of sexual maturity, life expectancy and natural mortality of the King Island Emu are unknown. The Emu (mainland) may begin breeding when 20 months old (Marchant & Higgins 1990). The oldest recorded Emu (mainland), banded as an adult, survived for six years, though the species can survive for longer in captivity, it is probably not long-lived (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Nests made from small dry sticks and lined with dead leaves and moss were placed on the ground beneath shrubs or on the beach. This ground-nesting habitat would have made incubating birds vulnerable to the depredation of trained hunting dogs. Eggs were probably laid in late July. Newly-hatched chicks were weak, and remained in the nest for two or three days (Brasil 1914).

The King Island Emu ate berries, grass, figs and, very occasionally, seaweed (Brasil 1914).

There is nothing published about the feeding behaviour of the King Island Emu except that it foraged only in the morning and in the evening (Brasil 1914). The Emu (mainland) forages by plucking items from plants and by picking food items from the ground (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Given the flightlessness of the species, and its endemism on King Island, the species was probably sedentary (Brasil 1914).

Though the King Island Emu has been extinct since early in the 19th century, if a survey were to be conducted, it should consist of diurnal area searches within a radius of 500 m at various sites, for sightings or searching for dung, tracks or feathers, or transect surveys with the same objectives; either method would be useful in establishing whether the species was present at a site. Transect surveys in open country could be conducted on foot or in a vehicle, or aerial surveys in an aircraft (Magrath et al. 2004).

The extinction of the formerly numerous King Island Emu is believed to have been caused by excessive hunting for food by the early seal-hunters who used specially-trained dogs to catch and kill the birds, killing 'several ... every day' (Brasil 1914).

Major studies on the King Island Emu include a reasonably comprehensive questionnaire compiled by Baudin in 1802 to collect data on the species from the seal-hunters who were familiar with it (Brasil 1914), and a critical examination of various remains collected on King Island (Brasil 1914; Campbell 1903c; Parker 1984b). Marchant & Higgins (1990) summarise all that is known about the species. The Action Plan for Australian Birds (Garnett & Crowley 2000) also provides a summary of ecological and biological data for the species.

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Uncategorised:Uncategorised:threats not specified Dromaius aterin Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006io) [Internet].

Alexander, W.B. (1921a). Notes on the fauna of King Island from the logbooks of the "Lady Nelson". Emu. 21:318-319.

Barrett, G., A. Silcocks, S. Barry, R. Cunningham & R. Poulter (2003). The New Atlas of Australian Birds. Melbourne, Victoria: Birds Australia.

Blakers, M., S.J.J.F. Davies & P.N. Reilly (1984). The Atlas of Australian Birds. Melbourne, Victoria: Melbourne University Press.

Brasil, L. (1914). The Emu of King Island. Emu. 14:88-97.

Campbell, A.G. (1903c). Emu bones on King Island. Emu. 3:113.

Christidis, L. & W.E. Boles (1994). The Taxonomy and Species of Birds of Australia and its Territories. Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union Monograph 2. Melbourne, Victoria: Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union.

Condon, H.T. (1975). Checklist of the Birds of Australia. Part 1. Non-Passerines. Melbourne: Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union.

Garnett, S.T. & G.M. Crowley (2000). The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: Environment Australia and Birds Australia. Available from:

Green, R.H. (1989). Birds of Tasmania. Launceston, Tasmania: Potoroo Publishing.

Green, R.H. & A.M. McGarvie (1971). The birds of King Island. Records of the Queen Victoria Museum. 40.

Legge, W.V. (1907). The emus of Tasmania and King Island. Emu. 6:116-119.

Magrath, M.J.L., M.A. Weston, P. Olsen & M. Antos (2004). Draft Survey Standards for Birds: Species Accounts. Melbourne, Victoria: Report for the Department of the Environment and Heritage by Birds Australia.

Marchant, S. & P.J.Higgins, eds. (1990). The Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, Volume 1 Part a - Rattites to Petrels. Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

Mathews, G.M. (1911). The Birds of Australia. Part 1. London: Witherby.

Parker, S.A. (1984b). The extinct Kangaroo Island Emu, a hitherto-unrecognised species. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. 104:19-22.

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Dromaius ater in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Thu, 2 Oct 2014 02:09:19 +1000.