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.
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.
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.
They have a limited range, majorly found in north-eastern Australia. The Southern cassowary also makes its home in Indonesia.
It inhabits tropical rainforests, and savannah forests.
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.
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
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.
The Southern cassowary doesn’t have many natural enemies. Some of its only predators include pythons, dingos, crocodiles, and quolls.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.