cassowaryScientific Name– Casuarius casuarius johnsonii

Conservation Status– Vulnerable

Appearance

The cassowary is a large bird measuring up to 2 metres in height. It is the largest of the three cassowary species. Females may weigh up to 58kg and males 34kg. Southern cassowary’s have three claws on each foot with all being incredibly sharp.

On the cassowary’s head is a casque. This is made from a sponge like substance. A layer of keratin covers this. No one is quite sure what the purpose of a casque is. It may act as a shock absorber for when the cassowary moves through the rainforest. Another theory is that the casque may amplify sounds for the cassowary to hear them better.

The large eyes of the cassowary allow it to see better as it moves through the dark rainforest. Their long black feathers are believed to help remove water from their back as it rains regularly in the rainforest.

The wattle on the double wattled cassowary is red. The purpose of this wattle is unknown. It may be used to portray their feelings to other cassowaries.

Lifespan                                                                                  

Cassowaries generally reach 12 to 19 years of age in the wild. In zoos they occasionally reach 40 years.

Diet

The double wattled cassowary is an omnivore. As such they live on a diet of fruits and meat. The main portion of the cassowaries diet is fruit which has fallen onto the forest floor. For meat cassowaries will eat almost anything. This can range from snails up to small mammals.

Cassowaries play an important role in the ecosystem. When eating the seeds of fruits they are not digested in the cassowary’s digestive tract. As such they drop these seeds around the rainforest. This helps new plants to grow.

Habitat

Cassowaries are found across the top of Australia in the Cape York Peninsula. They also occur across most of Papua New Guinea. They live in tropical rainforest areas. They frequent areas which are open and like to be near streams.

Reproduction

Cassowaries breed from June to October which links up with when food is most abundant in their home range. This is the only time of the year where females will tolerate males. The male emits a serious of low booms as he circles the female.

The pair remain together up until the female lays her eggs.  This generally lasts a few weeks. They pair will scrape a nest in the ground. The male will line this with grass and leaves. In the nest the female deposits 3-5 green eggs.

It is the male who incubates the eggs and cares for the chicks. The females have been known to move on and breed with another male in the same breeding season.

The eggs are incubated for 55-60 days. The chicks stay with the dad up until 9-16 months of age.

Behaviour

Cassowaries raise themselves to full height when confronted. They then begin to emit a hiss. Cassowaries are very defensive though. They can jump into the air and kick at people with their strong legs. They have not killed a human though since 1926.

Humans can only hear a small range of the cassowary’s calls.

Quick facts

Cassowaries are adept at swimming.

The cassowary is the world’s most dangerous bird according to Guinness World Records.

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