'Emu' vs 'Ostrich': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on November 9, 2023

‘Emu’ vs ‘Ostrich’: What’s the Difference? One of the coolest things about learning new words is that it allows us to explore other areas we’re passionate about. This article will be a chance to learn more about the animal kingdom and make you an expert on some very interesting birds. 

In a hurry? Here’s a quick preview of what’s to come:

  • ‘Emu’ refers to a speedy bird native to Australia with three toes 
  • ‘Ostrich’ refers to the largest flightless bird that is native to Africa and has two toes

What’s the Difference Between ‘Emu’ vs ‘Ostrich’?

From a vocabulary standpoint, the obvious answer is that these words represent two different animals. Why are they so commonly confused? Well, if you saw a picture of each bird side by side, they look very similar.

But there are some ways to tell them apart: 

  • Emus’ are much smaller than ‘Ostriches’ and don’t grow as tall
  • Emus’ are native to Australia, while ‘Ostriches’ are native to Africa
  • Both animals are known for their plumage, but ‘Ostriches’ have black feathers while ‘Emus’ can have grey or brown
  • Emus’ have three-toed feet, while ‘Ostriches’ have two-toed feet

While there are more interesting facts yet to come, these are the primary differences between these creatures. 

Of course, you could try and memorize all of the above, but that can be hard to do without a hint. Here’s a way to remember some of the facts above:

  • ‘Emu’ is a physically smaller word than ‘Ostrich’ which may serve as a reminder of the birds’ size as well.
  • Also in terms of their toes, there are three letters in ‘Emu’ just like there are three toes on the birds’ feet. 

Word clues are never perfect, but they are a great way to practice associating words with their meaning. But, there is also still much to learn about these creatures, so let’s dive into ‘Emu’ vs ‘Ostrich’ individually. 

Definition of ‘Emu’: What Does it Mean? 

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Emu’ is a noun that means:

  • A large flightless, fast-running bird native to Australia resembling the ostrich, with shaggy grey or brown plumage, bare blue skin on the head and neck, and three-toed feet
    • “They saw an emu on their vacation down under.”
  • A swift-running Australian ratite bird with undeveloped wings 

Also note that ‘Emu’ can also be an abbreviation that means: 

  • Electromagnetic unit

‘Emu’ Fun Facts

  • The ‘Emu’ is the second largest bird in the world, growing to about 6 feet tall.
  • ‘Emus’ have very few natural predators and are only occasionally hunted by humans, crocodiles, and wild dogs.
  • This bird is endemic to Australia, meaning they only exist there (unless taken to a zoo abroad)
  • The indigenous Noongar word for ‘Emu’ is Wetij or Waitj
  • Once eggs are laid, the mother ‘Emus’ makes the males sit on the nest until they hatch
  • Although they are flightless, ‘Emus’ use their wings to steer themselves while running at top speeds
  • ‘Emus’ have two sets of eyelids: one for blinking, one for keeping out dust
  • They are the only birds with calf muscles, which help power them when they run

Definition of ‘Ostrich’: What Does it Mean? 

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Ostrich’ is a noun that means:

  • A flightless, swift-running African bird with a long neck, long legs, and two toes on each foot; it is the largest living bird
    • “The ostriches ran across the savannah.”
  • A person who refuses to face reality or accept the facts
    • “Don’t be an ostrich when it comes to security checks.”
  • Someone who says a problem doesn’t exist because they don’t want to deal with it

The word ‘Ostrich’ came from the Greek ‘strouthos’ meaning “sparrow or ostrich,” which was combined with the Latin ‘avis’ meaning “bird,” to become the modern ‘Ostrich.’ 

‘Ostrich’ Fun Facts

  • ‘Ostriches’ can grow up to 2.7 meters tall, which means an average of 9 feet.
  • These massive birds can cover almost 15 feet in a single running stride, with speeds up to about 40 miles per hour.
  • ‘Ostrich’ legs are also used to defend themselves against predators, and a kick from these birds is strong enough to kill. 
  • ‘Ostriches’ don’t actually bury their heads in the sand, but they will lie down flat and hide from predators by blending into the soil around them.
  • ‘Ostrich’ eggs are the largest in the world, weighing about 3 pounds each.
  • These flightless birds have a unique omnivore diet and have three stomachs.
  • ‘Ostriches’ have very long eyelashes that help keep dust out of their eyes.

Pronunciations: How to Pronounce ‘Emu’ vs ‘Ostrich’

Now that you’ve learned more about these birds let’s make sure you can discuss them in conversation. Follow the guides below to learn how to properly pronounce these new vocabulary words so you feel comfortable saying them aloud

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Emu’ as a guide:

  • ‘Ee-moo’ (both vowels are long, with the ‘e’ as in “see” and the ‘u’ as in “too”)

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Ostrich’ as a guide:

  • ‘Aw-strih-tch’ (the first vowel is wide as in the word “awesome,” and the ‘ich’ sound is short as in “kitchen”)

How to Use ‘Emu’ vs ‘Ostrich’ in a Sentence

The final step to solidifying your understanding of new vocabulary is feeling confident using the words on your own terms. The sample sentences below will give you an idea of how these words can appear in a variety of contexts. Give them a read, and then try writing some of your own. 

‘Emu’ Example Sentences

  • On their trip to the Australian Outback, the family got to see a bunch of emu in their natural habitat.
  • Emu’s blue skin makes them easy to identify in the wild because it sticks out compared to their dusty feathers. 
  • My friends joked about whether it would be possible to ride an emu given their large size and speed. 

‘Ostrich’ Example Sentences 

  • If you manage to survive a kick from an ostrich, their powerful bite might do you in for good. 
  • He was such an ostrich when it came to relationship advice and refused to acknowledge that he had marital problems. 
  • Cooking a dozen chicken eggs is about the same as cooking one ostrich egg. Talk about a hearty breakfast. 

‘Emu’ vs ‘Ostrich’ Example Sentences

  • While emus are viewed to have exceptionally powerful legs, ostriches are still able to outrun them. 
  • It seems that emus are much nicer and docile creatures than the seemingly grumpy ostrich
  • Though both birds are flightless, ostriches still have an incredible wing span, while emus have very stubby wings. 

Final Words on ‘Emu’ vs ‘Ostrich’

Learning new vocabulary doesn’t have to mean memorizing definitions — it can be learning interesting facts and attaching words to your areas of interest. Remember that using words themselves as clues can be a great way to practice associating vocabulary with their definition. 

Need a quick recap? Let’s review what we learned:

  • ‘Emus’ are birds native to Australia that have blue skin and three toes
  • ‘Ostriches’ are the largest birds in the world, native to Africa, with two toes and strong kick

Want to keep connecting your language knowledge to the animal kingdom? Be sure to check out other confusing word articles that explore creatures of all kinds and much more. And remember, if you ever encounter an ‘Ostrich,’ watch out for those powerful kicks.

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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