The Southern Cassowary usually feeds on different types of fallen fruit, picked up from the rainforest floor. After the flesh of the fruit has been digested, the seeds remain intact and are deposited on the ground in lumps of dung. Often the first sign that a Cassowary is around are its tell-tale piles of droppings. Because the seeds are deposited in their own blob of fertiliser, they are able to germinate quickly, and through this action, Cassowaries assist with the regeneration of the rainforest.
The Cassowary’s large size, its large greyish helmet (casque) and the red wattle hanging from the neck, make it easy to identify. The feathers of the body are black and hair-like. The bare skin of the head and fore-neck is blue, while the rear of the neck is red. Both sexes are similar in appearance, but the female is generally larger than the male, with a taller casque, and is brighter in colour. Young Cassowaries are browner than adults, and have duller coloured head and neck. The chicks are striped yellow and black. If a Cassowary is approached it will generally stand its ground. If the intruder approaches too close, the bird will stretch itself as tall as possible, ruffle its feathers and let at a loud hiss in an attempt to scare the intruder off. The birds are equipped with quite dangerous claws, and will readily attack a persistent intruder, although they usually retreat into the dense rainforest.
Habitat and Range
Southern Cassowaries are found in rainforests in northern Queensland, as well as through New Guinea and eastern Indonesia. The dense habitat and the Cassowary’s secretive nature make individuals difficult to see. In certain areas birds come near human habitation seeking food. Throughout their range, Southern Cassowaries live alone, and inhabit the same area all year round.
The Southern Cassowary feeds mostly on fruit that has fallen to the ground. The Southern Cassowary will also eat anything from snails to small dead mammals. Southern Cassowaries normally feed alone. If two males should meet, they have a stand off where both birds stand tall, fluff up their feathers and rumble at each other until one retreats. If a male and female meet, the male will move away, as the female is dominant.
The female Southern Cassowary selects a male to breed with and then lays a clutch of large green eggs in a scrape in the ground lined with plant material. Once the eggs are laid, the male is left in charge of the incubation and chick-rearing duties, while the female moves away, and may even breed again with another male. During the breeding season, the parental males are very aggressive, and attacks on humans have been recorded at this time.
Did you know?
‘Claude’ the Cassowary used to roam freely in the Sanctuary in the 1960’s! (© David Fleay Trustees)
Text © Birdlife Australia
Image © Jona Photography