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The Cassowary

Updated on February 17, 2013


Large, flightless birds with long, powerful legs, cassowarries belong to the genus Casuarius. Of the three known species, all of which are found in the tropical rainforests of New Guinea, only one, the Southern Cassowary, Casuarius casuarius, is found in Australia in north-eastern Queensland.

The Southern Cassowary stands about 1.5 meter tall when erect. It has vivid blue skin on its head, throat and neck, and paired red wattles about 12 cm long hanging from its neck. These provide a sharp contrast to its uniformly black, glossy plumage.


  • Size: 1.5-2.0 meters
  • Diet: Fruit, occasionally fungi, snails and small dead animals.
  • Habitat: Tropical rainforest
  • Breeding: Up to four eggs are laid between June and October and are incubated solely by the male.
  • General Information: The heaviest of all the Australian birds, the Cassowary is extremely wary of humans. They are under threat of extinction due to habitat loss.

Cassowary Facts

Cassowary are any of three species of huge flightless birds that live in the rain forests of New Guinea, its neighboring islands, and northern Australia. They are heavy-bodied birds, from 52 to 65 inches (1.3-1.65 meters) long, and may weigh over 140 pounds (63 kg). Females are larger than males. In adult cassowaries, the coarse, hairlike, long, drooping plumage is black; in the immature birds the plumage is brown.

In all cassowaries the skin of the head and neck is bare and brightly colored in red, blue, purple, and yellow. In two species bright red wattles hang from the foreneck. Cassowaries have characteristic horny casques on their heads and short, narrow, strong bills. The wing feathers are reduced to long, bristlelike spines that curve along the sides. The legs are short, heavy, and well muscled, and the innermost of the three toes has a long sharp claw.

Cassowaries are dangerous and powerful birds that can kill even a full-grown man. They usually leap feet first on their adversary and attack with the sharp claw. Their casques, coarse plumage, and wing quills fend off the undergrowth of the rain forests. Cassowaries are somewhat gregarious outside of the breeding season, but they tend to be pugnacious. In spite of their size, they are hard birds to observe since they are rather shy and are most active at night. They run rapidly, up to 30 miles (48 km) per hour,

with the head held forward, and they also swim well. They feed on seeds, berries, and insects.

The cassowary's nest is a flat platform of sticks and leaves on the forest floor. The female lays three to eight green eggs. The male incubates the eggs and cares for the striped young.

Cassowaries make up the genus Casuarius in the family Casuaridae. With the Australian emus, they comprise the order Casuariiformes.

Have you ever seen a Cassowary in the wild or in a zoo?

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    • profile image

      nifwlseirff 5 years ago

      I have seen a cassowary in a zoo, but never been far enough north to see one in the wild!

    • CruiseReady profile image

      CruiseReady 6 years ago from East Central Florida

      NO, I have never seen a Cassowary in the wild, but I will look for one next time I am at a zoo.

    • MyFairLadyah2 profile image

      MyFairLadyah2 6 years ago

      I don't think I've every seen oneBut "cassowary" has cropped up a few times in a crosswordNice lens