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Southern Cassowary BirdFeatherdale Wildlife ParkNSWAustralia,2012
FEATURED INAustralian Women Photographers Group, November 2012The World As We See It , or as we missed it. Group, November 2012
evita, bird, birds, native birds, australia, nature, southern cassowary bird
The cassowaries are ratites, very large flightless birds in the genus Casuarius native to the tropical forests of New Guinea, nearby islands and north-eastern Australia.2 There are three extant species recognized today. The most common of these, the Southern Cassowary, is the third tallest and second heaviest living bird, smaller only than the ostrich and emu.
Cassowaries feed mainly on fruit, although all species are truly omnivorous and will take a range of other plant food including shoots, grass seeds, and fungi in addition to invertebrates and small vertebrates. Cassowaries are very shy, but when disturbed, they are capable of inflicting serious or even fatal injuries to dogs and people.
The Northern and Dwarf Cassowaries are not well known. All cassowaries are usually shy birds of the deep forest, adept at disappearing long before a human knows they are there. Even the more accessible Southern Cassowary of the far north Queensland rain forests is not well understood.
Females are bigger and more brightly colored. Adult Southern Cassowaries are 1.5 to 1.8 metres (4.9–5.9 ft) tall, although some females may reach 2 metres (6.6 ft),5 and weigh 58.5 kilograms (129 lb).6
All cassowaries have feathers that consist of a shaft and loose barbules. They do not have retrices (tail feathers) or a preen gland. Cassowaries have small wings with 5-6 large remeges. These are reduced to stiff, keratinous quills, like porcupine quills, with no barbs.6 A claw is on each second finger.7 The furcula and coracoid are degenerate, and their palatal bones and sphenoid bones touch each other.8 These, along with their wedge-shaped body, are thought to be adaptations to ward off vines, thorns and saw-edged leaves, allowing them to run quickly through the rainforest.9
A cassowary’s three-toed feet have sharp claws. The second toe, the inner one in the medial position, sports a dagger-like claw that is 125 millimetres (5 in) long.6 This claw is particularly fearsome since cassowaries sometimes kick humans and animals with their enormously powerful legs (see Cassowary Attacks, below). Cassowaries can run up to 50 km/h (31 mph) through the dense forest. They can jump up to 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) and they are good swimmers, crossing wide rivers and swimming in the sea as well.7
Detail of a Southern Cassowary head. All three species have horn-like but soft and spongy crests called casques on their heads, up to 18 cm (7 in).8 These consist of “a keratinous skin over a core of firm, cellular foam-like material”.10 Several purposes for the casques have been proposed. One possibility is that they are secondary sexual characteristics. Other suggestions include that they are used to batter through underbrush, as a weapon for dominance disputes, or as a tool for pushing aside leaf litter during foraging. The latter three are disputed by biologist Andrew Mack, whose personal observation suggests that the casque amplifies deep sounds.11 However, the earlier article by Crome and Moore says that the birds do lower their heads when they are running “full tilt through the vegetation, brushing saplings aside and occasionally careening into small trees. The casque would help protect the skull from such collisions.”10 From an engineering perspective the wedge shaped casque is also the most efficient way to protect the head by deflecting falling fruit. As cassowaries live on fallen fruit they spend a lot of time under trees where seeds the size of golfballs or larger are dropping from heights of up to 30 metres. Mack and Jones also speculate that the casques play a role in either sound reception or acoustic communication. This is related to their discovery that at least the Dwarf Cassowary and Southern Cassowary produce very-low frequency sounds, which may aid in communication in dense rainforest.11 This “boom” is the lowest known bird call, and is on the edge of human hearing.12 Crowe described a cooling function for the very similar casques of guineafowl.
The average lifespan of wild cassowaries is believed to be about 40 to 50 years.13
Cassowaries are solitary birds except during courtship, egg-laying, and sometimes around ample food supplies.8 The male cassowary defends a territory of about 7 square kilometres (1,700 acres) for itself and its mate, while females have overlapping territories of several males.13 While females move between satellite territories of different males, they appear to remain within the same territories for most of their lives, mating with the same or closely related males over the course of their life span. Courtship and pair bonding rituals begin with the vibratory sounds broadcast by females. Males approach and run with necks parallel to the ground with dramatic movements of the head, which accentuate the frontal neck region. The female approaches drumming slowly. The male will crouch upon the ground and the female will either step on the males back for a moment before crouching beside him in preparation for copulation or she may attack. This is often the case with the females pursuing the males in ritualistic chasing behaviors that generally culminate in water. The male cassowary dives into water and submerges himself up to his upper neck and head. The female pursues him into the water where he eventually drives her to the shallows where she crouches making ritualistic motions of her head. The two may remain in copulation for extended periods of time. In some cases another male may approach and run the other male off. He will climb on to her to copulate as well. Males are far more tolerant of one another than females, which do not tolerate the presence of other females.
The breeding season starts in May or June. Females lay three to eight large, dark bright green or pale green-blue eggs in each clutch into a prepared heap of leaf litter.8 These eggs measure about 9 by 14 centimetres (3.5 by 5.5 in) — only Ostrich and Emu eggs are larger. The female does not care for the eggs or the chicks but moves on to lay eggs in the nests of several other males. The male incubates the eggs for 50–52 days, removing or adding litter to regulate the temperature, then protects the brown-striped chicks, who stay in the nest for about nine months, defending them fiercely against all potential predators, including humans. The young males then go off to find a territory of their own.813 “Young cassowaries are brown and have buffy stripes. They are often kept as pets in native villages [in New Guinea], where they are permitted to roam like barnyard fowl. Often they are kept until they become nearly grown and someone gets hurt. Mature cassowaries are placed beside native houses in cribs hardly larger than the birds themselves. Garbage and other vegetable food is fed them, and they live for years in such enclosures; for in some areas their plumage is still as valuable as shell money. Caged birds are regularly bereft of their fresh plumes.”9
What an amazing bird and capture Evita!
12 November 2012 – 1 image per 24hrs
What a uniquely beautiful image! Love the textures!
Thank you very much Lynn !!! ☺♥
He is totally new to me but I think he’s amazing :-) Wonderful work on thia fabulous shot, Evita :-)
Thank you so much Trish !!! ☺♥
Thank you Berns very much !!! ☺♥
M A G I C !!!! UAUUUUUUUUUUU!!!
Thank you so much Guendalyn !!! ☺♥