Cassowaries are ratites native to the tropical forests of New Guinea (Papua New Guinea and Indonesia), nearby islands, and northeastern Australia. There are three extant species of the cassowary, the most common of these species is the Southern Cassowary which is the third tallest and second heaviest living bird, smaller only than the Ostrich and the Emu. The other species are the Northern Cassowary and the Dwarf Cassowary.
In general, cassowaries have glossy black feathers, small wings and they lack tail feathers. They have three-toed feet with sharp claws, the second toe (the inner one in the medial position) sports a dagger-like claw that can be 125 millimeters long. This claw is particularly fearsome since cassowaries sometimes kick humans and animals with their enormously powerful legs that are capable of inflicting injuries, occasionally fatal. They have also casques (helmets) on their heads which grow with age.
Cassowaries can run at up to 50 km/h through the dense forest and can jump up to 1.5 meters. They are also good swimmers, crossing wide rivers and swimming in the sea. These birds mainly feed on fruit and will take a range of other plant food, including shoots and grass seeds, in addition to fungi, invertebrates, and small vertebrates. For a lot of trees, cassowaries are a powerful vehicle for spreading seeds around, its digestion is gentle so the seeds aren’t harmed and can be easily found through the forest with the bird’s droppings.
Cassowaries are solitary birds except during courtship, egg-laying, and sometimes around ample food supplies. The male cassowary defends a territory of about 7 square kilometers for itself and its mate, while females have overlapping territories of several males. Females lay three to eight large, bright green or pale green-blue eggs then she moves on, leaving the male to incubate the eggs and look after the hatchlings. The incubation period is 50–52 days, once the brown-and-tan striped chicks hatch, the male leads them to his regular feeding grounds, protecting them and teaching them the ways of the world. The chicks stay with their father for almost 9 months.
The cassowary is being hunted and eaten by native people in its homeland, but its meat is said to be very tough and strong in taste.