The cassowary is a flightless bird ©Getty Images

The cassowary is a flightless bird ©Getty Images

The cassowary is a large flightless bird. It is the third largest of a family of birds called ratites. The ostrich is the largest ratite and the emu is second largest.

The ratites do not have a bone in their chest for flight muscles to anchor onto, so they cannot fly.

Habitat and Distribution (where they are found)

Their habitat is tropical rainforest.  There are three kinds of cassowary, two found in New Guinea and one, the Southern Cassowary, found in northern Queensland in Australia.

 

Appearance

The cassowary has a casque on top of its head ©Getty Images

The cassowary has a horny helmet called a casque (say cask) , on its head. This helps it crash its way through the thick forest. The skin on the cassowary's head and neck is blue. Two long red flaps called wattles hang down from its neck. 

Females are slightly larger than males.  The feathers on the body are black and look more like hair than feathers.

The legs are thick and greyish, with three toes. The inner toe has a 12 cm claw like a spike, which is used in defence. Cassowaries can be dangerous when cornered.

The inner toe of each foot is armed with a sharp claw used in defence. ©Getty Images

The inner toe of each foot is armed with a sharp claw used in defence. ©Getty Images

 

 

 

Diet

Cassowaries eat fruit and seeds. The seeds pass through their bodies and are dropped in their poo far away from the trees they came from, and so the cassowary plays an important part in spreading seeds of rainforest plants.

 They also eat small mammals and birds they find dead.

 

 

 

Life Cycle

The male cassowary raises the chicks ©iStock Images

The male cassowary raises the chicks ©iStock Images

Breeding takes place May to November. After mating, a female lays 3-6 eggs, then leaves the male to sit on them for about 8 weeks until they hatch.

The chicks are cream with brown stripes, and stay with the male for 9 months.

 

Conservation and Threats

The southern cassowary is classified as Endangered. There may be as few as 1500 left in the wild.   

The reason for this is habitat loss - much of the rainforest where they live has been cleared.

 

Read more about the cassowary, watch a video:

http://www.arkive.org/southern-cassowary/casuarius-casuarius/video-00.html

Read about the southern cassowary:

http://australianmuseum.net.au/Southern-Cassowary/

Read the kidcyber page:

Birds