Cassowary portrait on green grass. By Andrea Izzotti |
Cassowary portrait on green grass. By Andrea Izzotti |

About the southern cassowary.

The cassowary is the second largest bird on earth, after the ostrich, but it is the most dangerous. It has powerful legs with claws that enable it to attack with kicks at high speed.

It is a remarkable looking animal with bright colors in neck and head (that change depending on its mood), black feathers on its body that resemble fur, large legs, very small unusable wings and a large crest called casque.

They are very fast animals (up to 50km/h) and agile, even through the brushes. They can jump nearly 2 meters and swim in the sea and cross rivers.

The casque of the cassowary is made of an sponge-like material and covered in keratin (like nails). This protuberance grows throughout the animal’s life.

Among the hypotheses that explain the function of these casques, two are more probable. The first one says that it is just an ornament to show its mating ability, and the second that it is a resonance box that enhances its already acute sense of hearing and improves sound perception in dense vegetation.

The cassowary uses very low-frequency sounds for communication. It is the bird that emits the deepest sounds on earth. These sounds are right above the lower frequency humans can hear and it often feels more like a vibration, rather than something actually audible.

They don’t have tongues, so they use their beak to pick up fruit and other food from the ground and swallow it directly.

They are extremely solitary birds that only get together during the mating season.

A female can lay 3-8 eggs of an intense green color and 12 cm of average size. However, males incubate them for 50 days, not even leaving for food, and losing part of their volume and weight. Chicks are brown with stripes at birth, then their plumage changes and the casque starts to develop as they grow. After 9 months they leave the male and become completely independent.

They are great dispersers of seeds; once they go through their digestive system, they tend to germinate and grow. This is how they help scattering the seeds of the fruit trees they feed on.

The cassowary is the closest looking to the already extinct dinosaurs of all animals alive, and the one that shares the most similarities with them.

This bird is seriously endangered, mainly because of human presence. Habitat reduction, approaching urban areas to find food (resulting in many vehicle collisions), attacks from dogs and the competition with wild boars over food are the main causes of population decline in this species.

Southern cassowary. Daintree national park. By Torsten Pursche |
Southern cassowary. Daintree national park. By Torsten Pursche |
Southern cassowaryVulnerable
Casuarius casuarius127 – 170 cm (50 – 67 in)
Casuariidae29-58,5 kg (64-129 lbs)
StruthioniformesUp to 60 years
AvesIncubation period of 50 days.
6,000-15,000 individualsThey mainly eat fruit that falls to the wet ground (plums are their favorites). They complement this diet with leaves, fungi, insects and small animals.
They usually live in rain forests, but they can also live in savanna forests, swamps and fruit plantations.Southern Papua New Guinea, Seram, Aru Islands, Northeastern Australia, Paluma Range, McIlwraith Range and Jardine River National Park.

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Zoo portraits is a creative and educational project based on the animal kingdom and is divided into three main areas: Image, education and awareness.


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