Southern Cassowary

Casuarius casuarius johnsonii

Click to view a larger image. Click to view a larger image. bird bird

Southern Cassowary
Image: Konrad Wothe
Source: photolibrary

Museum specimen featured in the Wild exhibition
Source: Museum Victoria

Type: bird

Southern Cassowary Southern Cassowary
Image: Konrad Wothe
Source: photolibrary

Conservation Status

Secure Vulnerable Endangered Extinct  ]

Only 20–25 per cent of the Southern Cassowary’s original range remains. Its habitat has been lost through clearing for agriculture, timber and human settlement. Many Southern Cassowaries are also hit by cars or killed by dogs.

WHAT THEY EAT

omnivore

Southern Cassowaries are omnivores.

They eat fruits, grasses, fungi and small animals.

HOW BIG THEY ARE

Southern Cassowary relative size depiction as described below

Size relative to a cat and a woman.

Weight:
58 kg
Height:
1.5–1.8 m tall

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.

Did You Know?

Southern Cassowaries

  • are Australia’s heaviest birds, but not the tallest
  • produce a call that has the lowest frequency known in birds
  • are important for distributing seeds through the forest

WHERE THEY LIVE

Southern Cassowary distribution map

Southern Cassowaries are found in far north Queensland, New Guinea and nearby islands. They inhabit tropical rainforests, melaleuca swamps and mangrove forests.

OTHER ANIMALS

Other animals from Australasia

PlatypusBennett's Tree KangarooBanded Hare-wallabyThylacineSouthern Brown Kiwi