Amazing Southern Cassowaries
Southern Cassowaries are colourful, shy, flightless birds that roam the tropical forests of north-eastern Australia. With their glossy blue-black plumage and imposing height, they are striking and beautiful creatures, yet rarely seen. Two other cassowary species occur outside Australia.
The purpose of the horn-like ‘casque’ on the head is uncertain. It might be to push through undergrowth, assert dominance, or amplify the bird’s booming calls.
Cassowaries have unusual feathers that do not link together like those of other birds. They have no tail feathers, and their small, weak wings bear just a few stiff quills. Southern Cassowaries have long sturdy legs and can run through forest at about 50 kph. Their three-toed feet are used to dig through leaf litter, and a fearsome sharp claw on their middle toe can be used for defence.
Southern Cassowaries eat mostly fruits, swallowing them whole and dispersing the seeds in their droppings. Some seeds are too large to be dispersed by any other animal, while others germinate better after they have passed through a cassowary’s gut. Thus these birds are important for maintaining the health of rainforests.
Mostly solitary, Southern Cassowaries come together for courtship and egg-laying. The male incubates up to eight large blue-green eggs and cares for the brown-striped young for nine months. Females do not care for the young.