(Casuarius casuarius) Cassowaries are a large flightless bird belonging to
the "Ratite" family. The family name is derived from
the Latin "Ratis" meaning "Raft" which describes
the flat breastbone or sternum which lacks the keel that acts
as a extra anchorage for the large flight muscles of flying birds.
The name Cassowary is from a Malay name [kesuari] for the birds
There are 3 species of which the "Southern Cassowary"
is found in North Queensland Australia. Normally Cassowaries are
very shy but when cornered can lash out dangerously with their
A realistic population size is thought to be 1500-3000 individuals, though some sources claim up to 10,000. About 40 Cassowaries are kept in captivity in Australia
In Australia this large ratite is confined to rainforests and associated habitats in northern Queensland (see map below). Other subspecies occur in New Guinea and nearby islands. In these tropical rainforests, the Cassowary prefers stream banks and clearings.
DECLINE Much of this rainforest has now been cleared, and the Cassowary that remain are vulnerable to dogs, shooting, traffic when crossing roads, starvation and, possibly, disease (Tuberculosis and aspergillosis-related diseases) and nest predation and competition from feral Pigs. The main reason for decline in the southern Cassowary population has been clearance of the prime habitat, rainforests. Clearance for agriculture has virtually ceased but continues for residential and tourist development. Adult Cassowaries are occasionally shot, though this is illegal
- General Appearance (+ Colouring)
Distinctive. Tall, greyish bony casque (helmet) on both sexes. Skin on head pale blue, becoming darker down neck. Some red lateral skin on neck also. Two long red-to crimson free-swinging fleshy Wattles originate at the front of the neck with an orange patch on the back of the neck. Body black. Feathers coarse hair-like (bristle like) with shaft and aftershaft. Short, stout green-grey or brown-grey legs, feet same colour; three toes. Inner toe-nail an elongated spike up to 120 mm. Female Cassowary slightly larger and more brightly coloured and more dominate. Size to 1.75 m. approx (5 feet). Though unable to fly, the Cassowary is a good swimmer
- Colouring of Young
Hatchling downy; striped yellowish brown with longitudinal black stripes to about 3 months. Cassowary juveniles have a brown-bodied head and neck pattern like the adult but duller, and also lacks a casque (helmet). The body plumage becomes blacker with their increase in age.
- Helmet (Casque)
Grey in colour and slightly directed forward this vertical bony helmet protects the birds head as it makes its swift way through the thick undergrowth of the rainforest. The Cassowary is the only bird in the world to have any type of protective armour
Each foot on the Cassowary has 3 forward pointing toes with strong claws to provide grip while running, the inner toe having a 12cm (5") long spike for defensive purposes when it kicks out when cornered.
How to describe this unique call differs in every source of information I have accumulated. They range from :-
:- Thunder in the distance
:- The lowing of a cow to its calf (when calling to its young)
:- Throaty call like a truck being started
Their call has been heard over a distance of 3 miles on a still night
The Southern Cassowary is largely confined to rainforest and associated complexes that can provide a year round supply of fleshy fruit, most of which is picked up from the ground. High variation in fruit production both between seasons and between years appears to cause movements of parts of the Cassowary population The seeds of the fruit that they eat is secreted undamaged thus the bird has an important role in the dispersal of rainforest seeds. They can also eat small dead marsupials and birds
The female Cassowary lays 3 to 6 large (5 1/2 in x 3 1/2 in) pale green Eggs on forest litter and may be served by a number of Males during the breeding season
from May until November deserting each in turn after the eggs are laid.
The male Cassowary incubates the Eggs for about 2 months then takes care of the
young until they reach the age of 9 months