Cassowaries, casuarius, are the second heaviest birds in the world, after the ostrich of course. Depending on the species (there are 3), they can stand from 3.2 to 5.6 feet (1 to 1.7 meters) tall and weigh 39 to 129 pounds (17.5 to 58.5 kilograms). Female cassowaries are larger than males. They have “casques” that develop on their heads which are made of a firm material much like Styrofoam and covered in a thick layer of skin. It is uncertain what exact purpose these casques serve. Some believe it protects their heads while others believe it might aid cassowaries in making sounds.
Cassowaries are natives of Papua New Guinea and its surrounding islands as well as parts of northeastern Australia. They tend to inhabit dense tropical forests and are solitary birds. Since cassowaries cannot fly, they have learned how to run very fast. In fact, they can reach speeds of more than 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour). They are so well at blending into their environment that they often are not seen by humans who are trying to look for them.
The diet of cassowaries partly consists of spiders, insects and other invertebrates. The majority of their diet however, consists of grasses, leaves, and a variety of plants. Cassowaries play a very important role in their environment as there are many plant species that will not sprout unless they have passed through the cassowaries’ digestive system. Cassowaries have no natural predators except for foxes, cats and dogs as they may destroy their nests or eat their eggs. If they do feel threatened however, they will use their strong legs and razor-like claws in order to fend off any attackers. They will even jump almost 7 feet (2 meters) straight up in the air to ward off any potential threats.
Mating season for cassowaries takes place from June to October to coincide with the time when fruit is most abundant in their habitat. Males will strut in a circle around the females and call to them with a series of low booms. After mating takes place, the two stay together and find a nest to lay the eggs. After the females lay their 8 eggs, they will leave the male to incubate and care for the hatchlings. She may even breed and lay more eggs with another male. After 50 to 60 days of incubating from their father, the eggs in the nest will hatch. The chicks will follow their father and learn from him for about 16 months and then he will chase them off to live on their own.
Cassowaries are classified as vulnerable animals. Loss of their natural habitat is the greatest threat facing these flightless birds. Hopefully, a solution can be found to protect and preserve all cassowary species. After all, such a unique species of bird deserves to live for many years.
“Cassowary” 4 December 2010
“Birds: Cassowary” 4 December 2010