Photo: C & D Frith
Wet Tropics Rainforest Life
casuarius 200 cm
- The Cassowary has Gondwanaland origins (when much more of
Australia was covered by rainforests).
- There are two other cassowary species in New Guinea.
- It lives to about 50 years of age.
- Despite being a bird, the Cassowary is Australias largest land animal.
- It normally weighs about 60kg, but the heaviest recorded was 83kg.
- Its eggs are the third largest of all birds at an average 584g (after the
Ostrich eggs at 1100g and Emu eggs at 637g).
- Even though it is large and colourful, it can be hard to see in the rainforest.
At close quarters it may be quite frightening.
- It has powerful legs and if provoked may kick in defence. The sharp nails on
its inner toes can easily rip flesh so the Cassowary is capable of killing
- Unable to fly, all it has is the vestigial remains of wings. These have 3-5
large wire-like feathers attached that help brush aside any plants in its
travelling path. As it moves it also holds its head down for protection and lifts its toes
right up under its chin.
- Its hard casque or helmet comprises a central cartilage core and an outer tough
horn-like skin covering. Its size is possibly significant in determining social status.
- The Cassowary is an endangered species, with estimates of only 1500
means there may be fewer Cassowaries in Australia than Pandas in China.
- It has
relatives such as the Elephant Bird of Madagascar and the moas of New Zealand
that became extinct after contact with humans.
- Its extinction could affect rainforest plant diversity as it helps spread the
seeds of up to 100 tree and shrub species.
- Its short digestive system allows it to eat the fruits of poisonous
plants by eliminating the toxins before absorbing them. This seems to be associated with
a highly active liver and an unusual combination of stomach enzymes.
- Seeds usually remain
intact and can grow after passing through the bird. Accordingly, the
Cassowary is often referred to as a keystone species in seed dispersal.
- Other animals such as the Musky Rat Kangaroo often include part-digested fruit
from the Cassowarys droppings in their diets.
- The only time the Cassowary is not solitary is during the breeding season. At other
times, if there is an accidental meeting, the female is
dominant (it is larger with brighter colours).
- A female often lay eggs in more than one male's nest, but then leaves the family
responsibilities to them! The male incubates the eggs (for
about 50 days) and looks after the young until he becomes intolerant of them and chases
them away at about one year of age.
- 4 or 5 blue-green eggs are laid from May/June to October/November.
- The chicks are striped until they are about 6-9 months old and become a
glossy black colour when they are about 3 years old.
- 'Henry' was a well-known Cassowary living in the Lake Barrine region. He was born
November 1989 in the Gadgarra State Forest a short distance to the east. Being
surrounded by humans since his birth, he was easily approachable (unlike other
- In his youth he was a regular visitor to the clearing at
- 'Henry' had the advantage of easily finding food (given to him by his many
visitors) without having to travel throughout the rainforest in search of the freshest
fallen fruits for himself.
- His residence at Lake Barrine was a tourist drawcard but caused several
problems. In particular, he was a hazard to traffic and finally died
after a minor collision with a truck.
Some Ways to Help
- Its best not to stop if you see a Cassowary on the road, but to slow down
instead. This is to prevent encouragement of the birds interest in cars and to
reduce its risk of being hit or causing an accident.
- Do not feed a Cassowary as this reinforces its interest in people and contributes
to its fearless attitude.
- When driving near a Cassowary, move away quickly so the bird will become
- Keep car doors and windows closed to exclude cassowaries.
- Please inform others of these suggestions.
Tips To Ensure the Cassowaries survival
Cassowary Food Plant
TO BIRD INDEX