Australian Bush Birds
Southern Cassowary  -  Casuarius casuarius
Cassowary Cassowary
Cassowary Cassowary at Etty Beach, near Innisfail, Qld.
map map The Cassowary is a flightless bird almost as tall as the emu but more solidly built with massive legs, coarse bristle-like black plumage and brightly coloured bare skin on head and neck. The top of the head carries a casque which is not solid but internally spongy and possibly acts a shock-absorber when the bird rushes through rainforest thickets with its head down hitting woody stems and hanging vines. Alternative theories are that the casque is involved in acoustic communications. Grows to 1.5 to 1.75 metres high. Females are larger (up to 2 metres), have taller casques, larger feet, and have more brightly coloured bare skin.

Skin on the head is pale blue becoming darker blue down the neck; there is red skin on the sides and back of the lower neck. Two long pink-red-crimson wattles swing freely from the front of the neck; wattle colour changes with mood. Plumage is coarse, feathers are hair-like. Legs are shortand stout, grey-green or brown-grey. Three prominent toes; the middle toe carries a spike up to 120 mm long which is a dangerous weapon. Adults can be aggressive; they may kick and are capable of inflicting fatal injuries on a human.

Southern Cassowary - page 2
Solitary for most of the year; in pairs for a few weeks when breeding then in family parties for a while. Females lay three to eight large, pale green-blue eggs, about 9 by 14 centimetres, in each clutch.

The male incubates the eggs for two months, then cares for the brown-striped chicks for nine months, defending them fiercely against all potential predators, including humans.

Feeds on rainforest fruit; either fallen or on low branches. Also eat fungi, snails, insects, frogs and snakes. Important in rainforest seed distribution because they eat fruit whole and distribute seeds across the rainforest in their droppings.

Lives in tropical rainforest, preferring stream banks and clearings. Found only on parts of the eastern side of Cape York in Queensland. Classified as endangered. There were estimated to be 1100 to 1500 Cassowaries remaining in 1999.