The cassowary is a curious creature. Leading a prominently solitary existence, this regal, flightless big bird roams the rainforest and coast of Tropical North Queensland but is so elusive that often the only sign that they truly exist, is literally, a sign.
Curiouser and curiouser. Here’s what we do know.
This bird lives large!
1. It is the largest native vertebrate in Australian rainforests.
2. It is the second heaviest bird in the world to the ostrich.
3. It is the third tallest bird in the world to the ostrich (#1) and the emu (#2).
4. The cassowary egg is the third largest of all birds at about 584g.
Photo by A. Fietzek Photography
Cassowaries are one of the closest living species to dinosaurs and one of the key visual features of this stocky bird that proves it (besides the gnarly toes), is the casque on its head. The purpose of the brown helmet thingy is not known but there are theories.
Some think that it is like an antenna and picks up the vibrations of other cassowaries in the area or that it is a shock-absorber that protects the head as they butt their way through thick rainforest. Maybe it just indicates dominance – which it does quite well.
Cassowaries are frugivores (fruit eaters)
At the top of the cassowary food pyramid is fruit, fruit and more fruit. This love of fruit runs so deeply that some of the rainforest fruits they eat have been named after them, like the Cassowary Plum and Cassowary Stain Ash. Also there is no chewing in the eating process, lunch is swallowed whole!
Rainforest gardeners – The Best Job in the World
This passion for fruit leads the cassowary to perform a very important duty. After eating fruit whole, their digestive system is gentle enough to keep the seeds intact. As the Cassowary roams the rainforest they disperse the seeds (use your imagination) into a new area of the rainforest in their own special fertiliser formula.
These solitary birds find love in a hopeless place
During May to November, cassowaries put their solitary lives aside to come together to find a mate. That loving feeling doesn’t last long. Once the lady cassowary has found a mate and laid her eggs, she is out and daddy day care begins.
The single dad builds the nest and incubates the eggs for 50 days, rarely eating or drinking during this time. Talk about dedication!
The chicks learn the ropes from dad for about nine months before leaving the nest to make it on their own, and reach maturity at about three years of age.
Cassowaries are gorgeous animals but they are territorial. Here are a few tips about how to respect the cassowary and be safe around them.
1. Always slow down when driving in cassowary territory.
2. Never approach a cassowary.
3. Never feed a cassowary.
Where in Queensland can you spot a cassowary?
*A special thanks to Wet Tropics Management Authority for being our cassowary experts.