Despite their size, the Cassowary’s coarse black plumage tends to blend in well with their surroundings and they often become almost invisible amongst the shadows of the forest – unless they’re on the move.
The Southern Cassowary is a big bird – adults can stand more than two metres tall and weight up to 85 kilograms but the average is about 38 kilograms for males and about 47 kilograms for females. Males and females are similar in appearance. They both have a tall ‘casque’ or helmet on their heads, and brilliant red and blue neck wattles. But mature females are usually much larger than the males.
Cassowaries travel long distances. The average home range can be 75 – 80 hectares and possibly even more but this can vary depending on the fruit that is available at the time.
Cassowaries tend to be very solitary. In fact mature birds only tolerate each other during the courting and mating process.
They usually breed from June to October, although chicks have been recorded as early as May and as late as January. Both males and females will initiate the courtship and often mate over several weeks. The female generally lays about 4 eggs directly on the forest floor – preferably in a sheltered spot.
Curiously, it’s the male that incubates the eggs. He sits on them for about 50 days, often going without food and water for long periods of time. And once the chicks have hatched he then takes sole responsibility for rearing them for up to 16 months.
If you’re lucky you just might see a male Cassowary foraging about in search of food. And if you’re particularly lucky he might just have one or three or four chicks in tow.
However, a word of warning! Cassowaries are very protective of their chicks and if you should be lucky enough to see a male with a chick, or chicks, give them a wide birth.
The cassowary tends to be quite territorial and will aggressively defend their local patch if threatened.
However, they avoid confrontation wherever possible and generally announce their presence by making a deep rumbling sound. If they do inadvertently meet, dominance is usually decided by what is called a ‘stretch display’. This involves stretching the neck, raising the feathers and issuing a deep rumbling call. If this doesn’t settle the matter and conflict seems inevitable, the two birds will crash together while leaping into the air and kicking with their inner claw. This dagger-like claw can be up to 120mm long and quite lethal.
For more information about Cassowaries you might like to check out the information displays in the Daintree Discovery Interpretive Centre.