The Australian cassowary is a large, heavy, endangered, flightless bird that lives in the rain forests of northeastern Australia and Papua New Guinea among dense, tropical plants and trees. It’s an absolute favourite for Australians involved in bird watching and photographers from around the country love to take shots. Like its fellow ratite the Emu, it’s feathers are more like fur or hairs than true feathers, and its wings are tiny, fairly useless and have a few quills. The skin on its head and neck are bare. The neck can be blue and the wattle that hangs from it, red. The pattern of the neck and wattle colours vary with age. The cassowary also has scaly legs and three toes on each foot. All of them have sharp claws, but the outer toe has a distinctly claw-like blade that can grow up to 12 cm long. More about this blade later.
A cassowary grows a bony casque on top of its head that might protect the bird as it races, head lowered, through the thick vegetation of the forests where it lives. The cassowary has a narrow bill that’s good for eating fallen fruit, plants, seeds and, occasionally, small animals and carrion. The cassowary also has a great repertoire of sounds. These include quite loud booms, rumbles, hisses and roars, and some scientists wonder if their casques help amplify these sounds. A female cassowary is larger than the male and tends to have brighter colours on her neck and wattle. Her casque is also a bit taller. Cassowaries can grow to about 170 cm long, and can weight up to 59 kg. They’ve been known to live up to forty years in captivity.
The cassowary is mostly solitary, but during the breeding season the female will often mate with more than one male, and go from one nest to the other and lay clutches of four to eight eggs in the nests the males have built. Cassowaries breed in the winter, in June and July. The eggs, which can be bright emerald green, are prized by collectors. The chicks are downy and striped and are exclusively cared for by their father till they become independent at about nine months old. Cassowaries become sexually mature at around three years of age.
Though cassowaries are usually shy, they will fight if they’re cornered or if their chicks come under threat. The long blade discussed above can inflict a fatal gash, and even a simple kick can cause damage. However, cassowary attacks are rarer than most people believe.
More info on the Cassowary here