The cassowary is a large, flightless bird living in the jungles Papua New Guinea, Australia, and other nearby islands. Its black helmet (or casque), bright blue neck, and red wattle also help to identify the cassowary. Male and females are look pretty much the same. Some of the differences include the fact that females are larger, have a taller casque, and have brighter colors. The casque, which is used to push vegetation out of the way for travelling, gave this large bird its name. The Papuan word for “horned head” is similar to the English word “cassowary.” Cassowaries are the second heaviest birds in the world behind the ostrich and the third tallest birds in the world behind the ostrich and the emu. the cassowary family contains three species: the southern cassowary, northern cassowary, and the dwarf cassowary. These are listed in order of size from largest to smallest.
Cassowaries can stand up to 6.5 feet (2 m) tall although they are normally about one foot (30 cm) shorter. They weigh at most 187 pounds (85 kg), but the males are smaller for both height and weight. These measurements, for both height and weight, are about the same as a tall adult human.
When a cassowary feels threatened, it will not run away like other smaller birds might. Instead it will stand its ground, stand up tall in order to look big, and let out a hissing sound. If a would-be predator comes even closer, the cassowary will use its long claws to fight away the intruder. These birds have six claws, one on each of the three toes on each foot. The middle claw on each foot can be up to 4.7 inches (12 cm) long! If they do want to run away, cassowaries can run at up to 30 miles (48 km) per hour and can jump up to seven feet (2.1 m) in the air! They are also very good at swimming.
Cassowaries, despite their strength, eat mainly fruit. Sometimes they will eat carrion, invertebrates, or small vertebrates if they are available. Cassowaries also play an important role in rain forest ecology. Some of the three hundred or more plants that cassowaries eat have large seeds. These birds are some of the only animals that can disperse these seeds, which can be up to 2.4 inches (6 cm) in diameter, over long distances. These large animals eat on average 6.4 pounds (2.9 kg) of fruit each day.
Although they are large, strong, agile, and fast, cassowaries still have some threats. Most of these are because of humans. Some people in Australia make a habit of feeding cassowaries with fruit. Because of this, these birds will come to their houses which are frequently nearby roads. If a cassowary wants to cross a road, it will not “stop, look, and listen” but will go on across unaware that cars could hit and kill them. Sometimes dogs will attack and kill a cassowary chick that is “trespassing” on the dog’s owner’s yard.
Cassowaries have a variety of different sounds used for communication. The chicks mainly use peeping to keep in touch with their parents. Adults will clack their bills, burp, and make a very interesting low boom. In order to boom, one of these birds must tuck its head down and inflate its neck. One side effect of this booming is that the bird’s feathers puff out, making the cassowary look bigger.
Use of the casque
Their are many thoughts on the use of the large casque. Some people say that it is used to push vegetation out of the way when travelling through the jungle. Others suggest that they are used in fighting over territory. One more recent theory says that these growths are used to amplify the sound of the booming.
Eggs and nesting
Both males and females are solitary most of the year except during breeding season. During this time, which lasts from June to October, the females will lay multiple clutches of eggs directly on the forest floor. After the laying process is complete, one male takes full responsibility of each clutch, eggs and chicks, until the young are independent. Each clutch contains three to five pale green eggs. About 50 days after being laid, the eggs hatch and one brown and tan striped chick comes out of each one.
For the next up to 16 months, the young will follow their father around everywhere. About three months after hatching, they will lose their stripes and become a dull brown. Around one year after birth, the young will grow their casque, wattle, and will change colors to look like an adult. Sometimes the father will chase off the young so he can mate again. Cassowaries, which can live for up to 50 years in captivity and around 20 in the wild, start mating around age three.
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- Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide. David Burnie and Don E. Wilson, Smithsonian Institution, ISBN: 978-0-7566-6002-4
- Cassowary – Bjørn Christian Tørrissen
- Mystery animal – public domain