Escaped emus captivate Washington County

The birds were part of a shipment being transported from Unity to Houlton.
a closeup of an emu's head
More than half a dozen emus (though not this one) have been running wild across Washington County. Photo by H. Zell/Wikimedia.

For the past month, a number of emus have been running wild across Washington County. The sightings of the birds, normally native to Australia, have prompted a range of responses from local people, and while some of the birds have reportedly met untimely fates, some have been recovered safely.

Photos of the large birds began surfacing on social media in early October, with one of the first spotted by Tammi Seeley while moose hunting in Alexander. Some residents, including Raymond Geisel of Machias, became concerned about the safety of the emus, particularly with winter approaching. According to Geisel, some of the birds were shot and killed in Meddybemps, while two others were successfully tranquilized near Calais and will be transported to a rescue facility in the western part of the state. Game wardens did not respond to a request for comment regarding reports of emu encounters.

One sighting happened at Tide Mill Organic Farm in Edmunds. “It appeared in the field by the farmhouse,” says Jane Bell of Tide Mill. “The mail driver came in and said, ‘Is that your bird?’ It was standing by the baler.”

Geisel was notified about the emu at Tide Mill and contacted an unnamed volunteer in Lubec who has experience working with the birds, and the two headed out. Once there, Geisel’s four‑month-old Australian shepherd, Energizer, guided them to the bushes where the emu had gone in. After putting Energizer in the truck, the duo, soon joined by Bob Bell, Mary Dickey and John Steele, headed after the bird, soon finding it in a large field.

As the recovery party moved across the field, the cows in the pasture joined in. “Heifers are such curious animals. They walked toward the humans pursuing the emu right down over the bank,” Jane Bell says.

Once the emu was pinned in against the water, the bird panicked and jumped in, going under twice. The second time it came up, the recovery crew was able to get a rope around its neck and safely guide it to the shore. From there, it was walked to a vehicle for transport and rehabilitation.

“It went better than could be expected,” Bell says, noting no shots were fired and no one was hurt. The group involved “made sure the humans were safe, and the animals, too. That’s what a farmer has to do. Everything here was done out of care and compassion.”

For Bell, the experience was a once‑in‑a‑lifetime event. “You never know what you’re going to see in this world. It’s just wonderful that this one worked out well.”

The story didn’t end as favorably for three other emus, according to Geisel. A second bird recovered near the Tide Mill area was previously hit by a vehicle, Geisel says. With no veterinary experts able to help the injured bird recover, and an infected wound near its broken hollow leg bone, it had to be euthanized. Another emu had to be euthanized about being attacked by a dog in Edmunds.

For those involved in the recovery of the birds, while they are glad for the animals’ safety, they’ve been met with a fair amount of incredulity. Geisel in particular has received hostile messages and even death threats, and the Bells are facing accusations of making up the story.

Part of the disbelief has been fueled by the community response on social media, where “half the businesses in Washington County” have posted photoshopped images of emus at the business, Bell says. “We’re probably the only business it actually went to — I’m sure people who weren’t there may think it’s not real.”

This story has been updated. It was originally published by the Quoddy Tides, and is republished here with permission.

Lura Jackson, Quoddy Tides

Lura Jackson is the managing editor of the Quoddy Tides in Eastport, and has written for various Maine publications since 2013. She is the author of Images of America: Eastport (2022) and Images of America: Calais (2020).
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