Species profile

Southern Cassowary

Southern Cassowary

Range and abundance

The Southern Cassowary is restricted to the rainforests and adjacent forest types of tropical north Queensland. Cassowaries occur as a number of sub-populations from the Paluma Range, north of Townsville, to the tip of Cape York. Numbers are believed to be decreasing, especially in the developed lowlands of the Wet Tropics, but also on Cape York Peninsula.

Description

The Cassowary is an unmistakeable large heavy flightless bird. It stands nearly 2 m tall and weighs 35 - 75 kg. It has heavy powerful legs with three toes. It has a casque, a tall horny protuberance on its head, and red wattles on its neck. Its face and neck are a brilliant blue and purple. The body is covered with a thick layer of shiny black plumage.

Ecology

Cassowaries feed mainly on the fruits of rainforest plants, swallowing entire fruits and rapidly passing the seeds in large piles of multi-coloured dung. They are the only known dispersers of many large-seeded rainforest plants. Birds also feed opportunistically on dead animals, snails and fungi. The female has an impressive display when proclaiming her territory. With feathers bristling and her neck arched down, she puffs out her throat to make a thunderous booming sound, the effort shaking her whole body.

Females lay 3-4 large light brown eggs on the ground. Eggs are incubated by the male.  Chicks are striped yellow and black; juveniles are brown. The male looks after young birds for about nine months before they are driven out to find a territory of their own.

Threats

Clearing of rainforest for agriculture and urban development has reduced and fragmented habitat for the Cassowary in the Wet Tropics of north Queensland. Populations in rainforest fragments are vulnerable to being killed on roads. Feral dogs are known to attack and kill chicks and juveniles, and feral pigs cause extensive damage to habitat and will eat cassowary eggs.


 

What is AWC doing?

AWC protects the habitat of the Southern Cassowary on Brooklyn Wildlife Sanctuary. Feral pigs are controlled which helps to reduce predation of nests.

Did you know:

When alarmed, the Cassowary can dash very quickly through seemingly impenetrable rainforest and disappear. Birds use the horny plate on the top of their head to help push through vines and thick undergrowth.