After the ostrich and the emu, the cassowary is the third largest and tallest bird on the planet. Australia and Papua New Guinea are home to the bird. Hence, it gets its name from two Papuan words. Kasu means horned, and weri means head, referring to their prominent casque.
The cassowary has three extant species, according to scientists. The smallest in size is the Dwarf Cassowary, while the largest is the Southern Cassowary. The Northern Cassowary is slightly smaller than the Southern Cassowary.
A living dinosaur
Cassowary looks like a combination of a turkey and an ostrich. Although all birds are descendants of dinosaurs, cassowaries have one of the most distinguishing visual traits, the casque on their heads, which is thought to have been present in many dinosaurs.
Furthermore, from their massive, black-feathered body to the bluish skin on their head, reddish skin on their neck and blue-grey coloured legs, the colours and textures of their feathers and skin mimic those of a dinosaur. Their enormous, vicious claws also give it the appearance of a terrifying dinosaur foot.
They eat poop!
Cassowaries are frugivores, meaning they eat mostly fruits and berries. It may consume up to 11 pounds of fruit in a single day. In the eating process, there is no chewing. It swallows the fruits in whole. Occasionally, they also eat fungi, dead animals, rodents, snails, and lizards for proteins. As a result, enormous piles of colourful poop are always found in the forest. Their faeces frequently contain partially digested fruits that are still nutritious. As a result, they used to eat each other’s poops as well as their own.
Always ready …
As they cannot fly away from a fight, cassowaries have equipped with the best protection and weapon. On top of their heads, they have a casque, a helmet-like crest. The casque is a bony protrusion covered with a sheath of keratin. It can reach 15 cm in length and 17 cm in height. Although the purpose of the casque is unknown, it is undoubtedly beneficial in protecting them from head injuries during a fight.
According to some theories, casque helps them push aside forest underbrush, attract the opposite sex, and communicate by generating and amplifying incredibly deep bellows, similar to the dinosaur’s sound in the movie Jurassic Park. According to certain studies, the cassowary’s casque can regulate heat exchange. When the ambient temperature was high, the casque served as a thermal window, but when the ambient temperature was low, it served as a heat barrier.
The razor-sharp claw on each foot’s middle toe is its most lethal weapon. Their claws, which can reach a length of 12 cm, can cause serious or fatal injury.
Dangerous, but shy
They may not be able to fly, but they can certainly fight. Before attacking, they will stand as tall as they can, ruffle their feathers, hiss, and lower their head to show off their casque. Cassowaries frequently leap feet-first at an assailant, their claws swiping downward in mid-air. Their karate kick has the potential to destroy bones and inflict lethal lacerations.
Every year, they attack up to 200 people. Nevertheless, there have only been two confirmed cases of a cassowary killing a human, one in April 1926 and the other in April 2019.
Despite this, the cassowary will not attack for no reason. They are shy creatures and would rather avoid confrontation where possible. They are fiercely protective of their young and territorial. The most common reasons for human attacks are self-defence and the expectation of food from those who approach them.
A documentation examination in 1999 revealed that 73% of the attack involved a cassowary that associated people with free meals. Therefore, please do not feed cassowaries for your own safety. Also, avoid approaching a cassowary because this may make them feel threatened.
Dad loves green eggs
Cassowaries are solitary birds. They come together to mate between May to October. The females may mate with several males and produce several nests, laying clutches of 3 to 5 green-coloured eggs with approximately 584g each. After laying eggs, the female cassowaries will abandon them. The male will take over and incubates the eggs for at least 50 days, never leaving the nest for any reason, even food. They will also spend the next 9 months, after the eggs hatch, nurturing and teaching the young.
They and the ecosystem
Cassowary was known as a rainforest health keeper. Their faeces aid in the dispersal of seeds across the rainforest, ensuring plant dispersion and germination.
Despite all three species are listed as “least concern” on the IUCN red list, their population are declining. Indirectly, it suggests that the quality of our ecosystem is deteriorating.