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Cassowaries growing up
Cassowaries (genus Casuarius) are frugivorous; fallen fruit and
fruit on low branches is the mainstay of their diet. They also
eat fungi, insects, frogs, spiders, snakes and other small animals,
even dead ones and roadkills. They live for about 40-50 years.
They are the second-largest bird in Australia and the third-largest
remaining bird in the world (the ostrich and emu are larger).
The birds grow to 1.5 - 1.8 m tall, though the females are larger and can reach 2 m and they weigh about 60 kilograms, but the heaviest recorded was 83kg. They have a bony casque on the head that is used to batter through underbrush, this is made of keratin, the same material as our nails and hair. The casque is also used for headbutting and some people believe it is used to receive the very low frequency humming noise that they can make.
Usually cassowaries are very shy but when they feel threatened or want to protect their young they can lash out dangerously with their powerful legs and jump and kick with both legs at once. Their three-toed feet have sharp claws; the dagger-like middle claw is 12 cm long.
Cassowaries are very capable of killing dogs by disemboweling them and have injured people, though only one death has been recorded, more on this on the cassowary attacks page. They can run up to 50 km/h and jump up to 1.5 m. They are also good swimmers and have been observed swimming across the channel from Cardwell to Hinchinbrook Island.
They don't have much of a family life, they are solitary birds but females will cruise around the forest mating with several males during the breeding season from May to November. Courtship is initiated by the male when a female enters his territory. The smaller sized male must approach the larger female with caution because if she is not in the mood she is capable of seriously injuring him. The male begins courtship by circling around the female and making a low rumbling sound.
When she has laid her eggs, three to eight, measuring about 90 by 140 mm and pale green-blue in color, in a shallow scrape in the ground in which the male has placed leaves and grass, she moves on again to repeat the process with another male. It is the male's duty to incubate the eggs for about fifty days and also to care for the chicks for another year or so. The chicks are striped until they are about 6-9 months old and become a glossy black colour when they are about 3 years old. By that time, the skin on the neck and head begins to turn color, and the casque begins to develop. Cassowaries are capable of breeding when they are three years old.
Cassowaries are crucial to the survival of the rainforest, as many of the seeds are too big to be dispersed by any other birds. The cassowary eats about 150 different ones. Cassowaries swallow fruit whole and then excrete intact fruit seeds in large piles of dung which acts as a ready-made fertiliser, the dung helps the seed to grow. White-tailed rats, bush rats, melomys and musky rat-kangaroos sometimes feast on seeds in cassowary droppings. But most seeds survive to germinate. Usually, seeds are deposited within a kilometre of where they were eaten.
Cassowary having a drink
It must be mating season,
This cassowary casually cruises in for a visit
Cassowary and chicks
When driving near a Cassowary, move away quickly so the bird will become disinterested.
Some cassowary videos...
Where can you see this bird?
They only live roughly from Mission beach to
just north of Cape Tribulation and inland as far as the Atherton
You may encounter them on the roads in these areas so keep your speed down but do not stop and definitely do not feed them.
Some accommodation places to stay where
you have a reasonable chance of seeing them;