Southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius)

loading
Side profile of adult southern cassowary amongst vegetation
IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable VULNERABLE

Top facts

  • The southern cassowary is a large, flightless bird with a helmet of tough skin on its head, used to push through vegetation in the rainforest.
  • The southern cassowary got its name from a Papuan word meaning ‘horned head’.
  • Despite its fearsome reputation, sharp claws and powerful kick, the southern cassowary feeds almost entirely on fruit.
  • The female southern cassowary is dominant over the male, and it is the male who incubates the eggs and cares for the chicks.
loading
Loading more images and videos...

Southern cassowary fact file

Southern cassowary description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderCasuariiformes
FamilyCasuariidae
GenusCasuarius (1)

Cassowaries are large, flightless birds that are related to emus and found only in Australia and New Guinea (2). The southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) has glossy black plumage and a bright blue neck, with red colouring at the nape (3). Two wattles of bare, red coloured skin hang down from the throat. Cassowaries have stout, powerful legs and long feet with 3 toes; the inner toe on each foot has a sharp claw that can reach up to 80 millimetres in length (4).

The name cassowary comes from a Papuan name meaning ‘horned head’, referring to the helmet of tough skin borne on the crown of the head. This helmet (or casque) slopes backwards and is used to push through vegetation as the cassowary runs through the rainforest with its head down. It also reflects age and dominance. The sexes are similar in appearance, although females tend to be larger and heavier. Chicks are striped black and cream, fading to brown after around five months. The adult colouring and casque begin to develop between two and four years of age (4).

Size
Height: 1.3 - 1.7 m (2)
Female weight: up to 60 kg (4)
Male weight: 35 kg (4)
Top

Southern cassowary biology

Cassowaries are usually solitary, and males are subordinate to females if they meet. Females may lay several clutches of eggs during the breeding season, which runs from June to October. These are laid directly onto the forest floor and the male then takes sole responsibility for their care. The male incubates the eggs for around 50 days, turning the eggs and only leaving his charges in order to drink. He cares for his offspring for up to 16 months, protecting them under his tail if threatened (4).

Cassowaries fight by kicking out with their legs. They have a fearsome reputation, but their diet is composed almost entirely of fruit. These birds are important dispersers of a number of rainforest seeds, ranging far in search of fruiting trees (4).

Top

Southern cassowary range

The southern cassowary is found in New Guinea as well as Queensland in north-eastern Australia (3).

Top

Southern cassowary habitat

The southern cassowary is a rainforest inhabitant, although it is also found in nearby savanna, mangroves and fruit plantations (3).

Top

Southern cassowary status

The southern cassowary is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable

Top

Southern cassowary threats

The destruction of rainforest and wet tropical coastal lowland habitat is the most important cause of the decline in the southern cassowary population. As forest is cleared to make way for agriculture or development, populations become fragmented and isolated, reducing genetic variation. The birds may also not have access to sufficient food or water sources in forest patches. Traffic accidents are also important causes of mortality, particularly in Queensland, where some areas are becoming increasingly populated by humans. Where cassowaries come into contact with humans, dogs pose a threat to their survival, preying particularly on young birds. In New Guinea, cassowaries are important food sources for some communities and are heavily hunted as a result (5).

Top

Southern cassowary conservation

In Australia, most of the remaining habitat of the southern cassowary is now located within protected areas (3). A recovery plan for the species has been drawn up by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, with the aim of securing and enhancing the status of the southern cassowary in Australia through integrated conservation initiatives (5). In New Guinea, further data on population numbers is required and hunting restrictions may need to be imposed (3). This awesome bird belongs to an ancient lineage and is one of the most striking of the flightless birds; its conservation therefore has important cultural and ecological significance.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
To help conserve this species by working in the field with Earthwatch, click here.
Top

Find out more

Find out more about the southern cassowary and its conservation:

Top

Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

Top

Glossary

Casque
A helmet-like structure or protuberance.
Incubate
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Nape
The back of the neck.
Wattles
Bare fleshy skin that hangs from the bill, throat or eye of birds.
Top

References

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  3. Community for Coastal and Cassowary Conservation (August, 2003)
    http://www.cassowaryconservation.asn.au/
  4. BirdLife International (February, 2008)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=4&m=0
  5. Recovery plan for the southern cassowary Casuarius casuarius johnsonii 2001 - 2005 (February, 2008)
    http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/recovery/southern-cassowary/pubs/c-johnsonii.pdf
X
Close

Image credit

Side profile of adult southern cassowary amongst vegetation  
Side profile of adult southern cassowary amongst vegetation

© Jurgen Freund / naturepl.com

Nature Picture Library
5a Great George Street
Bristol
BS1 5RR
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 117 911 4675
Fax: +44 (0) 117 911 4699
info@naturepl.com
http://www.naturepl.com

X
Close

Link to this photo

ARKive species - Southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) Embed this ARKive thumbnail link ("portlet") by copying and pasting the code below.

Terms of Use - The displayed portlet may be used as a link from your website to ARKive's online content for private, scientific, conservation or educational purposes only. It may NOT be used within Apps.

Read more about

X
Close

MyARKive

MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.

Play the Team WILD game:

Team WILD, an elite squadron of science superheroes, needs your help! Your mission: protect and conserve the planet’s species and habitats from destruction.

Conservation in Action

Which species are on the road to recovery? Find out now »

This species is featured in:

This species is affected by global climate change. To learn about climate change and the species that are affected, visit our climate change pages.

Help us share the wonders of the natural world. Donate today!

Blog RSS