Scientific Name: Casuarius casuarius
The name “cassowary” derives from the Papuan word “kasu-weri,” meaning “horn head.”
One of only three species of cassowary, the Southern, or “double-wattled,” cassowary is the second largest bird in the world. As heavy as 128 pounds, it is only outweighed by the ostrich.
STATUS: This animal is classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Populations of all species of cassowary are suffering from the loss of their rainforest habitats, as well as threats from hunting, traffic, disease, feral pigs, and dogs.
HABITAT: The double-wattled cassowary lives in Papua, New Guinea, and northern Australia. Most often found in rainforests, this species occasionally frequents swampy forested areas. They are excellent swimmers and can often be located near riverbanks.
DIET: The cassowary’s diet consists primarily of fruits and berries; it obtains most of its food from the rainforest floor and from low-hanging tree branches. Cassowaries will also eat fungi, insects, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. The cassowary is an important disperser of the seeds of more than a hundred species of rainforest plants.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: The cassowary’s body is covered with coarse, black, hair-like feathers, which help the bird to shed water in its rainy habitat. Its head lacks feathers and the skin is bright blue and red. The “double wattles” that give the cassowary its common name are brightly colored folds of skin that hang from the bird’s neck. A flightless bird, the cassowary has only rudimentary wings consisting of five or six quills on both sides of its body, which protect the bird’s body against thorny underbrush. Female cassowaries are larger than males, often exceeding five feet in height, and are more brightly colored. Both sexes have a large helmet-like casque on their head, which is believed to help the bird fend off obstructions as it runs through dense undergrowth. Cassowaries have three-clawed toes on each foot. The claw on the middle digit is especially large and sharp, like a dagger. The cassowary uses as a weapon by leaping at an enemy feet-first.
In the wild, cassowaries are mostly solitary and territorial, but during breeding season (June through October), the male may initiate courtship if a female enters his territory. After mating, the male builds a shallow nest on the ground and lines it with leaves and grass. The female lays three to eight green eggs and then departs to go in search of another mate. The male is left alone to incubate the eggs for about 50 days. Within a few hours of hatching, the brown, striped chicks are able to follow their father to search for food. The male stays with the chicks for about nine months, teaching them to find food and protecting them from predators. It takes approximately three years for cassowaries reach their full adult size and plumage.