This mysterious bird is thought to be more similar to ancient dinosaurs than any other bird species. The Southern Cassowary is large-bodied flightless birds that have fierce claws and casques, or a helmet-like accent on the top of its head, just like many dinosaurs are believed to have had. They also have a loud and deep voice that has a low frequency for a humanto hear. Scientists say that their voice is likely projected and amplified through the cassowary’s casque. They also believe that the purpose of its helmet is to protect their heads as they go through tangled forests.
The South Cassowary is one of the three living species cassowary together with the northern cassowary and the dwarf cassowary. This bird is a ratite which means that it is related to the kiwis, ostriches, emu, and rheas.
The Characteristics of the Southern Cassowary
The cassowary has dropping black and satin-like feathers on its neck, tail, and body. These shimmering feathers are the same feathers that can be seen on ostriches and emus. The skin on its neck and face are brightly colored red and blue. In the northern cassowary, its skin color changes with its mood.
As we mentioned earlier, the cassowaries are ratites that are closely related to ostriches and emus which means that they are more adapted to walking and running rather than using their wings to swim or fly. The cassowaries are more active during the day and they walk slowly as they look for fruits and other foods.
The southern cassowary is one of the largest bird in the world, its height can reach up to 5.8 feet. Male cassowary can weigh up to 121 pounds while females can reach up to 167 pounds. They have two red sagging and jiggling wattles located on the skin below their chin and on the front of their neck. The skin around their face and neck appears to be pigmented in a palette of purple, turquoise, and blue with pink and red highlights. Their casque, on the other hand, is dark-colored on the outside and it is protected by a thick bone layer that resembles a tortoise’s shell or a horse hoof. The inside of its casque is made up of spongy, fragile honeycomb tissue that has more air spaces on the rear of the structure. Researchers say that their casque may be a product of mutual sexual selection that is used by both sexes to be able to evaluate their mate’s quality.
This bird specie produce one of the lowest-frequency sounds in any bird. Considering their solitary behavior, the low frequency helps the sound travel a greater distance to the closest cassowary so it can respond immediately. Most of their calls are associated with mating including the “boo-boo-boo” sound they make while they are stomping their feet.
They also make a low roaring call especially when there’s no other cassowary bird around. When these birds are threatened, they raise their feathers, extend their wings, and stretch their neck and body vertically so that they will appear to be bigger.
The Cassowary’s Habitat and Diet
Southern Cassowaries live in rain forests of the island of New Guinea, northeastern Australia, and in the Indonesian islands of Aru and Ceram. Usually, cassowaries are associated with dense and tropical rain forest and they have a fondness for old growth forest. Southern cassowaries can also be found in lowland forests, forest edges, savannas, riverbanks, mangroves, and fruit plantations.
Southern cassowaries often eat snails, fungi, and fallen fruit. Sometimes, when they have high-protein cravings so they tend to feast on small mammals and reptiles, dead or alive. Cassowaries use their feet to wash the forest floor for a meal. They are mostly dependent on fruit and they need a diverse forest habitat that has plants that can supply them food all year long. A study done in England showed that cassowaries eat over about 75 different types of forest plants. But if wild food becomes limited, these birds raids orchards, gardens, and commercial crops such as mulberries and bananas.
Cassowaries leave large piles of colorful manure all over the forest and it often contains seeds from the fruits they ate which helps spring the next generation of plants. Scientists believe that cassowaries helps spread the seeds of several rain forest plants and move them far from the parent plant which regenerates the ecosystem.
Why are they Dangerous?
Cassowaries can be aggressive when they are in captivity. This is because they don’t live comfortably close with other animals including their own kind. Cassowaries are solitary animals when they are in the wild and they often avoid humans whenever possible. They just slowly and silently vanish into the shadows of their homes even before humans stumble into their paths.
Southern cassowaries are very athletic birds and they are also skillful swimmers. They can run as fast as a horse and jump higher than seven feet. What makes them dangerous is their feet and they use it to defend themselves by letting out a powerful forward kick. Their inner toe on each foot has an extremely sharp dagger-like claw which can reach up to five inches long. Cassowaries have the power to rip off their opponent’s face who is stupid enough to harass them.
There have been reports that a southern cassowary once attacked a 75-year-old- Florida man named Marvin Hajos and left him mortally wounded. The man was said to own the southern cassowary bird but what he did to trigger the bird that attacked him is still unknown. Mr. Hajos was able to make an emergency call and paramedics rushed him to the UF Health Shands Hospital where he later died from the injuries he got from the bird’s long claws and falling in its enclosure.