A Cassowary Overview

     Cassowaries are ratities (flightless birds) native to the tropical forests of New Guinea (Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia), the 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 on earth, smaller only than the Ostrich and the Emu. The other species are the Northern Cassowary and the Dwarf Cassowary.


Cassowaries’ Characteristics

     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 mm long. This claw is particularly fearsome indeed, as cassowaries sometimes kick humans and animals with their enormously powerful legs that are capable of inflicting injuries, occasionally fatal. Cassowaries also have casques (helmets) on their heads which grow with age, that protect their heads while wandering in dense forests.

     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. Cassowaries mainly feed on fruits, 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, they represent powerful vehicles for spreading seeds around, as its digestion is gentle so the seeds aren’t harmed and can be easily found through the forest with the bird’s droppings.


Cassowaries’ Reproduction

     Cassowaries are solitary birds except during courtship, egg-laying, and sometimes around ample food supplies. The male bird defends a territory of about 7 square kilometers for itself and its mate, while females have overlapping territories of several males. The female cassowary lays 3 – 8 large, bright green or pale green-blue eggs then she moves on, leaving the male to incubate the eggs and look after the hatchlings. Male cassowaries incubate the eggs for  50 – 52 days, and 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, till they reach the point of independence. And it takes them around 2 – 3 years to be sexually mature.

     Cassowaries are sometimes being hunted and eaten by native people in its homeland, but their meat is said to be very tough and strong in taste. Also, collecting the birds’ eggs and hunting chicks and juveniles, drastically decreased the birds’ numbers in the wild.


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The Southern Cassowary by awee_19
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The Southern Cassowary by David Unger
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The Northern Cassowary by Robert01
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A male Southern Cassowary with his chick by Dan Gordon