Southern Cassowary

The Southern Cassowary is the third largest flightless bird in the world, found primarily in Oceania. It is easily recognizable from the two red wattles down its throat, giving it the name the double-wattled cassowary or the two-wattled cassowary, and the crown-like casque on its head. It is also known as the Australian cassowary after the region where it is most commonly found.

Southern Cassowary Scientific Classification

Animalia
Chordata
Aves
Casuariiformes
Casuariidae
Casuarius
C. casuarius

Table Of Content

Scientific Classification

Southern Cassowary

Animalia
Chordata
Aves
Casuariiformes
Casuariidae
Casuarius
C. casuarius

Noted botanist Carl Linnaeus was the first to describe the Southern cassowary in his book Systema Naturae, calling it Struthio casuarius. Its present scientific name comes from its Malay name, kesuari.

Southern Cassowary

Description

Size: Height ‐ 4.9–5.9 ft (1.5 to 1.8 m) Weight ‐ Males-129 lb (58.5 kg); Females – 64–75 lb (29 to 34 kg)

Beak:  It has a short, pointed bill that ranges from 3.9 to 7.5 in (9.8 to 19 cm) in length.

Claws: The Southern cassowary has sharp talons, especially on its inner toe, which can reach up to 4.7 in (12 cm)

 Body: It has stiff feathers all over its body except for its face and neck, and a horn-like casque on top of its head.

Coloration: The Southern cassowary is mainly black with a blue face. It has two wattles, red in color, hanging down its throat alongside a brown casque.

Differences between male and female

Both sexes look similar, with a few visible physical differences, particularly displayed by the female. They appear larger and brighter, with longer casques.

Male Southern Cassowary
Female Southern Cassowary

Range and Distribution

They have a limited range, majorly found in north-eastern Australia. The Southern cassowary also makes its home in Indonesia.

Habitat

It inhabits tropical rainforests, and savannah forests.

Southern Cassowary Habitat
Southern Double Wattled Cassowary

Lifespan

They can live up to 30 years in their wild habitat.

What Do They Eat

It is primarily a forager, preferring fallen fruit, even those which can be toxic to other species. It sometimes eats fungi, some insects, and small vertebrates.

Behavior

  • Southern cassowaries are solitary creatures, only interacting with their group as the breeding period approaches.
  • They are swift runners and can also swim exceptionally well.
  • While these birds have a reputation of being aggressive, they will generally avoid human contact unless provoked. Cassowaries fed by humans in the past have an increased tendency of attacking if their expectations for food are not met in future
Southern Cassowary Picture
Southern Cassowary Claw

Cassowary attacks on humans

Of the 221 recorded attacks, only two of them resulted in death since 1900. In 1926, a 16-year-old died when he and his younger brother attacked a cassowary that had entered their backyard. The second death happened in 2019 as a bird in captivity attacked its owner. In both instances, the victims had fallen on the ground first.

Predators

The Southern cassowary doesn’t have many natural enemies. Some of its only predators include pythons, dingos, crocodiles, and quolls.

Adaptations

  • Their claws, as sharp as a blade, help them dig and attack with intense power.
  • It has thick feathers, allowing it to pass through thorns and bushes with ease.
  • These birds have strong legs to jump high and kick hard in both forward and backward directions.

Mating and Reproduction

The mating season of the Southern cassowary takes place in late winter or spring. The female breeds with several males during the breeding season. Both sexes cry out loudly during this time. The male is very active during this period, building the nest, incubating the eggs, and raising the chicks.

Life Cycle

Eggs

There are 3-4 eggs hatched every cycle. The eggs start with an unusual green color that helps them stay camouflaged, though it fades later.

Juvenile

The chicks make high-pitched sounds to get their father’s attention. Juvenile cassowaries become independent at around 9 months of age. Females attain sexual maturity at around two years, and males do so at three years.

Southern Cassowary Eggs
Southern Cassowary Chick

Conservation Status

The IUCN lists the Southern cassowary as “LC” or “Least Concern”. Still, some significant threats to the bird exist, such as losing their habitat, getting hit by vehicles, and attacks by dogs and feral pigs. Other issues it faces include human interactions, diseases, and natural catastrophic events.

However, under specific Australian laws, it has been labeled “Endangered” in some territories.

Southern Cassowary Image
Southern Cassowary Baby

Interesting Facts

  • Cassowaries play an essential role in maintaining rainforests as they can disperse over 100 types of seeds.
  • The Southern cassowary is one of the closest living relatives of the dinosaurs today.
  • The function the casque on top of its head serves is still uncertain. Some feel it helps it assert dominance, and others think it may help with its hearing.

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