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Southern Cassowary - Robert South
Photo: Robert South

Southern Cassowary

Casuarius casuarius

Size: Adult stands 1.5-2.0metres high. Weight 38-47kg. This large, flightless bird belongs to the ratite group of birds, along with the Emu, the Rhea of South America and the Ostrich of Africa. It is the only species of cassowary in Australia.

Adults: body glossy and black with course plumage. A tall helmet or ‘casque’ on the head, made from keratinous material, and which grows with maturity. Skin on the face and neck is blue (red at rear of neck), and large, brilliant blue and red wattles hang from the front of the neck. Wattles may change colour according to the mood. Three forward pointing toes, of which the inner toe has a prolonged toenail, which can be used as a weapon. The female is larger, brighter and has a taller casque.

Chicks: Yellow-cinnamon and black stripes to 3 months, then as a juvenile is brown bodied, has small wattles and no casque. The casque develops and body darkens with increasing age. Adult plumage in 2-3 years. May mate while still in sub-adult plumage.

Call: a variety of rumbles, roars, booms and hisses, particularly if disturbed.

Breeds: June-October. Nest deep in the forest, on the ground, lined with leaves and ferns.

Eggs: Usually four - lustrous green. Incubation period - about 50 days. Male incubates eggs and raises chicks to 9-12 months of age.

Habitat: Rainforest, usually close to water and often feeds at the edge of clearings. Travels large distances each day. Territorial. Feeds on fallen rainforest fruits and is the only disperser of some of the larger rainforest seeds. Will also eat fungi and small dead animals etc.

Endangered species, threatened by loss of habitat, vehicles, attack by dogs and feral animals. Solitary bird for most of the year, and only pair for mating period. Although generally shy, can be aggressive and dangerous, particularly when protecting chicks.

The Southern Cassowary is one of the target birds for Daintree birdwatchers, and can often be seen from the boardwalks of the Daintree National Park, just north of the Daintree River. To see one in the wild is an absolute highlight for most birdwatchers.

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