The Southern Cassowary deserves its own page. What an amazing bird! Not only is it HUGE, but it has a tusk and demands a territory of several hectares. We looked for one in the wild with our guide Bill Crews, while in Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia, but did not see one in the flesh. Instead, we were left with the tales of these birds that had gored tourists and huddled over eggs. Our search took us to a great series of roads and trails in the Daintree National Park.
Cassowaries are called ratites, which means they are large flightless birds which originate from the tropical rain forests of New Guinea. The Southern Cassowary is the world’s third tallest (ostrich & emu are taller) and the second heaviest (only the ostrich is heavier) living bird species.
In terms of diet, Cassowaries are mainly herbivores, although all of the species are truly omnivorous. They subsist on daily doses of fruit, flowers, grass shoots, seeds, fungi, snails, insects, frogs, birds, fish, rats, mice, and carrion. Because of the wide variety of items in their foraging, Cassowaries are recognized as what is called a “keystone species of the rainforest.” The health of the entire ecosystem depends on them. They eat fruit whole that has fallen from the canopy and they digest the sugars. They then distribute the seeds across the jungle floor through their feces. No shit!
Kathleen Hooper gets close-up view of the Cassowary
Cassowaries, despite being flightless, sound like Super Bird: among their three claws they sport a five (5) inch long dagger-like claw; they can run up to 30 mph; they can jump a five (5′) foot fence with ease; and they are good swimmers. With all of these trait it was surprising to find that Cassowaries are very shy. However, when disturbed by dogs, other animals or people, they are capable of inflicting serious injuries or even fatal wounds.
They have been known to ram into vehicles, smacking their tusks into grills and doors of cars that frighten them. What other bird do you know who deserves and gets its own SLOW DOWN sign from the Dept of Transportation?