The cassowary – for some people it is beautiful and for others, it is ugly. Its unfriendly facial expression causes that the cassowary are not too popular, although they are very interesting birds. Its neon sky-blue head and the characteristic crest make this bird a weirdo among birds. It is fast as lightning and it can run among dense scrub and trees but it can also kill the human being while defending its territory. What are really cassowaries like?
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Class: Aves
- Clade: Novaeratitae
- Order: Casuariiformes
- Family: Casuariidae
- Genus: Casuarius
There are three living species of the cassowary and one extinct:
- the southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius)
- the dwarf cassowary (Casuarius bennetti)
- the northern cassowary (Casuarius unappendiculatus)
- †Casuarius lydekki
All three species of this flightless bird live in New Guinea, nearby islands and in northeastern Australia (Queen Island). The most numerous species is the double-wattled cassowary (Casuarius casuarius), which is the second heaviest bird after the red-necked ostrich (Struthio camelus) and at the same time, the third biggest bird after the common emu (Dromaiidae).
It stays in tropical equatorial forests as well as palm forests, on savannahs, meadows, in swampy woods. It is not known whether some island populations have been there forever or maybe it is the result of merchandising these birds by locals.
The single-wattled cassowary and the little cassowary are not as well-known as the double-wattled cassowary (although this species is a mystery to a large extent as well) because they are very fast- they escape before the human can notice them nearby. Cassowaries are very shy and spooky birds.
Females are bigger and more colorful than males. The cassowary does not have the preen grand or rectrices (tail feathers). Feathers all over their bodies have hairy shape and they are equipped with barbules. There are 5-6 remeges on small wings. There is the long claw on the second toe of a three-toed foot and it can be up to 125 mm long. It is the fearsome weapon of the cassowary because it defends itself with kicks.
All three species have a spongy ‘horn’ placed on the top of the head called the casque. It is made of the horny flesh. It is supposed that the casque is one of secondary sexual features, the attribute to batter through dense underbrush, the weapon during the dominance fight or the tool to push aside leaf litter while foraging. However, some people think that the casque is used as a resonator, which amplifies deep sounds. What is more, the casque can protect the cassowary against the collision with the tree. It also serves as a helmet in case the fruit falls from the tree. This explanation makes sense because the cassowary spends a lot of time under trees looking for fruit and seeds falling from the height of about 30m and they can be as large as the golf ball.
The southern cassowary, double-wattled cassowary, Australian cassowary, two-wattled cassowary (Casuarius casuarius)
This species of the cassowary lives in tropical equatorial forests of Indonesia, New Guinea, and northeastern Australia at the height of below 1100 m (Australia) and 500 m (New Guinea).
It has black stiff and rough plumage, blue mouth and neck, which is red on the nape. At the front of the neck, there are two red wattles hanging which are 17.8 cm long. On its head, there is the brown casque whose height is from 13 to 16.9 cm. Three-toed feet are thick and enormous and they have pointed claws, which are up to 12 cm long on the second toe.
Both genders have the same plumage but the female, which dominates, has the bigger casque and the beak (additionally, the beak is brighter than the male beak). The young have oblong brown stripes on feathers.
The double-wattled cassowary is the biggest species of the cassowaries and what is more, it is endangered.
The dwarf cassowary, the Bennett’s cassowary, little cassowary, mountain cassowary, mooruk (Casuarius bennetti)
It lives in alpine forests in New Britain, New Guinea and Yapen at the height of up to 3300 m. Casuarius bennetti can also stay in lowland areas where there are no other species of cassowaries. It is a solitary animal as all cassowaries. It only finds couples during the breeding season.
It has black stiff feathers, small casque on the head in the shape of a pyramid, red marks on the blue neck. In comparison with other cassowaries, this species is shorter and has the smaller beak. Its feet are big and they have pointy claws on middle toes. The female can boast about the longer casque, fairer skin and the bigger size than the male.
There are two subspecies of the Bennett’s cassowary:
- Casuarius bennetti bennetti
- Casuarius bennetti westermanni
The little cassowary is endangered.
The northern cassowary, the single (one)-wattled cassowary, gold(en)-neck(ed) cassowary (Casuarius unappendiculatus)
It lives in coastal swamps and lowland tropical forests in the north of New Guinea and the island of Yapen as well as Batanta (Indonesia) and Salawati Island (Indonesia). It often stays at the height of not more than 490 m.
Similarly to all cassowaries, this one has black stiff feathers, blue skin on its mouth and the casque on the top of its head. Its neck and wattle can be yellow or red. Strong feet are equipped with long claws. The female is bigger. It is one of the heaviest birds in the world. In comparison with the double-wattled cassowary, the single-wattled cassowary has shorter beak and longer walk (from 28 to 33cm).
This species is endangered.