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DESCRIPTION

In the tropical rainforest of northeastern Queensland Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) is difficult to see in the low light. The first indication that a cassowary is nearby is usually a low rumble, like the sound of an approaching truck. The noise the bird makes when it meets a strange object. If the bird is approached it will frequently keep quite still. Ifan the intruder comes too close the bird will stretch itself as high as it can, raise all its feathers and give a loud hiss.
This is typically sufficient to scare off a casual observer. If the observer does not depart, however, the cassowary will slowly walk away – sometimes with a stamp of the feet – or, if chased, run crashing through the forest undergrowth, body horizontal and head and neck stretched forward, slipping easily through dense tangles of plants that would stop most other large animals. For the major time of the year, Southern Cassowary lives alone.
They appear to have some sort of territory: individual birds – recognizable by facial characteristics and particular colors on the head and neck – can often be found time and again in the same areas. If two male cassowaries accidentally meet; they stretch their bodies, fluff their feathers, and rumble at each other until one retires.
In the tropical rainforest of northeastern Queensland Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) is difficult to see in the low light.
In the tropical rainforest of northeastern Queensland Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) is difficult to see in the low light. Photo Credit – Arjan Haverkamp
But if a male meets a female, she can more frequently than not make him flee merely by stretching a little and staring silently, or rumbling slightly at him, because females are playing dominant roles. With the approach of the breeding season, females become more tolerant and eventually form pairs with males of their choice. The pair remains together for a few weeks until the female is ready to lay when they go to the chosen nest site.
Before copulating, the male displays to the female by unique dancing around her in a circle. His throat trembling and swelling and emitting a series of low boos. The male then leads the female a short distance where she squats and allows him to mount. After egg-laying the female takes no more attention and leaves the male to incubate the eggs and rear the chicks.
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Once finished with a mate, the female may take another, and lay another set of eggs. In season one female has been recognized to take three mates in succession. The incubation period is about two months, during which the male is not seen in his usual haunts. Once the chicks have hatched the male reappears, taking his string of small striped youngsters to his regular feeding places.
The chicks grow rapidly and begin to lose their stripes after about three months. By the time they are six months old, their brown subadult plumage is developed and the neck and head are beginning to color. The male looks after the young for about nine months, and then he chases them away to fend for themselves.
It takes about three years for the glossy black adult plumage to develop fully, but cassowaries probably mature sexually before this, as brown birds sometimes attempt to mate with adult females. Keep in mind that Southern Cassowary can be aggressive, mostly when guarding their baby bird, and it seems that a few individuals are in nature bad-tempered.
They are armed with fearsome, though hardly ever used, weapons – the claw of the inside toe of each foot is a large straight spike, almost 120 mm long and 30 mm wide at the base. When Southern Cassowary brawls they move up their feathers and bend their necks right under the body, roaring loudly.
Then, they charge each other, kicking powerfully with both feet at once with their blade-like claws. The bout is typically short and not much damage is done. Though, deadly encounters with southern cassowaries are rare.
The first indication that a cassowary is nearby is usually a low rumble, like the sound of an approaching truck.
The first indication that a cassowary is nearby is usually a low rumble, like the sound of an approaching truck. Photo Credit – Brian Gratwicke

DIET

Southern Cassowary feeds on fallen fruit, particularly of the family Lauraceae, from rain forest trees and vines. So, typically, only one bird comes at a time to an area of fallen fruit, although different birds come at different times.
At times of food shortage, they may enter gardens and orchards to eat cultivated fruits such as bananas and mulberries. Besides fruit, cassowaries will eat almost any edible object – fungi, snails, dead birds, and even large dead rats, but they do, strangely enough, often refuse citrus fruit.

LENGTH

The length of adults when in standing position is about 1.5 to 2.0 m high to the top of the head.

IDENTIFICATION

Southern Cassowary is more thickset than Emu. ADULTS: Sexes are alike; however the female is a little larger, more brightly colored, with a taller casque or helmet. The entire plumage of both sexes is glossy black hair-like feathers that consist of two shafts.
The wings are rudimentary, reduced to a few long, bare quills. Therefore, the head and neck are naked except for scattered bristles. The face is dark becoming blue towards the back; sides and front of neck blue, darker on the lower neck. Thus, a pair of red wattles hang from the front of the neck; the back of the upper neck light blue grading below to bright red.
On the top of the head is a large, blade-shaped horny casque or helmet. Eye and bill are very dark brown. The legs are green-gray to horn; three toes, the inner toe has nail elongated to spike 120 mm long and 30 mm at the base.
IMMATURE: The young are brown with heads and necks in adult coloring but duller. DOWNY YOUNG: Striped yellow and black.

EGGS

The female Southern Cassowary usually lays four eggs, which are incubated by the male. He also rears the young, looking after them for about nine months. The lustrous mid-green color ellipsoidal, about 140 x 90 mm. Incubation periods are about two months by the male bird.Eggs of

VOICE/NOISE

A variety of rumbles, booms, roars, and hisses. Southern Cassowary noise makes when it meets a strange object.

NESTING

Breeding season starts from June to October, coinciding with the maximum availability of fruit. Nest a scrape in the ground lined with grasses, fern fronds, and leaves; situated deep in the forest.

DISTRIBUTION

Restricted to tropical rainforests in northeastern Queensland where it is fairly common. The bird is solitary throughout most years; sedentary, probably maintaining a feeding territory. Australian Cassowary is a member of a wide-ranging species that also occurs naturally in western and southern lowland New Guinea; one small race in Australia.

OTHER NAMES

Double-wattled Cassowary, Australian Cassowary, or two-wattled cassowary.
A variety of rumbles, booms, roars, and hisses. Southern Cassowary noise makes when it meets a strange object.
A variety of rumbles, booms, roars, and hisses. Southern Cassowary noise makes when it meets a strange object. Arjan Haverkamp
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