|The double wattled cassowary is a large,
flightless bird that is also known as the southern or Australian cassowary.
This bird is so wary of humans that little is known about its life in the
wild. The unusual looking double wattled cassowary has a large bony crest,
or casque, on top of its head. The cassowary probably uses the casque to turn
over loose soil or sand when it searches for food. On its long neck there
are bare patches of bright red and blue skin and long, fleshy flaps called
Habits: Although it is the largest land creature in New Guinea, the timid double wattled cassowary is rarely seen by humans. Solitary by nature, it comes into contact with other cassowary only during the mating season. When two cassowaries meet at any other time, they usually fight until the weaker bird is wounded and driven away. This behavior has led naturalists to believe that the cassowary is very territorial. When in danger the cassowary runs away on its powerful legs, with its head down and thrust forward. The horny casque probably protects the head from thorny branches. The cassowary is known to be very aggressive. It attacks by leaping at its adversary feet first and slashing with its sharp claws. Each foot has three toes: the outer and middle toes have sharp claws and the inner toe has a long spike that acts as a weapon. The cassowary’s call has been described as a hoarse, harsh croaking.
Food and Feeding: The double wattled cassowary spends much of the day hidden in the rainforest. It comes out in the early morning and late afternoon to forage for food. Its diet consists mainly of fruit, supplemented by seeds and berries. It also eats some species of fungi, invertebrates, and small vertebrates. Since the cassowary cannot fly to reach the fruit high in the trees, it must find fallen fruit. Captive birds have been seen turning over soil with their casques when searching for food. This behavior probably occurs in the wild when birds forage for food in deep leaf litter on the forest floor. The cassowary needs a habitat with a diverse range of fruit bearing trees that can provide it with food all year round. Because many forests in the bird’s range are now used for timber production, the variety of tree species is diminishing. As a result it is becoming more difficult for the cassowary to survive in these forests. A tropical rainforest, with its diverse species of trees, is the ideal habitat for the cassowary.
Breeding: The double wattled cassowary mates in winter, when there is plenty of food. The male courts the female by making loud booming calls. After mating, the female lays four to eight green eggs in a nest on the forest floor. Then she leaves, playing no further role in the process. Some naturalists believe the female mates several times during the breeding season, laying a few batches of eggs, one in each territory. The male incubates the eggs, which hatch about 30 days after laying. He cares for the chicks and protects them from predators until they can take care of themselves. The chicks are striped brown, black, and white when first hatched, but they gradually change to a dull brown. During the bird’s fourth year its plumage becomes glossy and black.
Related Species: Related to the dwarf, or small, cassowary, Casuarius bennetti, and to the one wattled cassowary, C. unappendiculatus.
Distribution: Found in rainforests in New Guinea, Cape York peninsula in northeastern Queensland, the Aru Islands, and Ceram.
Conservation: The double wattled cassowary was once common across its range, particularly in New Guinea. But its numbers have been drastically reduced by hunting and by the depletion of its rainforest habitat.
Features of the Double Wattled Cassowary:
Did You Know:
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