Casuarius_casuarius_Southern_Cassowary_PNG_2_by_Nick_Hobgood

Meet present velociraptors

There are some stories about eagles who kidnap children, movies about murderer birds… But it really exist a bird which can kill a person? Are birds of prey the most dangerous birds? Keep reading to find out more.

THE CASSOWARY

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the most dangerous bird in the world is the cassowary. Cassowaries (family Casuariidae), like the emu (with whom it is related) and the ostrich, are flightless birds and good runners (up to 50 km/h). They are also good swimmers and can jump up to almost 2 meters. They live in New Guinea, north of Australia (Queensland) and neighboring islands (Ceram, Aru).

Casuario (casuarius unnapendiculatus). Foto de Quartl
Northern cassowary (Casuarius unnapendiculatus). Photo by Quartl

There are three species: the Southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius), the Dwarf cassowary (Casuarius bennetti) and the Northern cassowary (Casuarius unappendiculatus). The largest of all is the Sourthern cassowary, in which we will focus in this article. Its name comes from Papua and means “horned head”.

Besides the size (1.80 m tall and weighing 70 kg, females are larger than males), highlighting the Southern cassowary is their blue and red neck, plucked, with two hanging pieces of skin (wattles), along with a casque that crowns the head, which is higher in the female. This casque is made up of trabecular bone (spongy bone) covered with hard skin (keratinized), which helps make their way through the dense vegetation of the rainforest where they live or for sexual attraction. It can also be a sign of the age, health and status of the animal respect their peers. It is estimated that they can live up to 12 to 19 years in the wild.

Primer plano de un casuario. Foto de Nick Hobgood.
Foreground of a Southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius). Photo by Nick Hobgood.

The plumage is black, shiny and loose, giving it an aspect like hair. The tips are sharp and used as a defense. But the real danger of the cassowary falls upon its legs and feet, as one of its three fingers has a claw of about 10-12 cm long.

pies, peus, garra, uña, casuario, feet, foot, cassowary
Cassowary feet, in which can be seen its inner finger modified as a powerful claw. Photo by Christian Ziegler

DIET

The cassowary feeds mainly on fruits in the ground, which are swallowed whole. This makes them important seed dispersers, up to 70 different species. Their diet is completed with invertebrates such as insects, small vertebrates and fungi.

quandong, cassowary, eating, fruit
Cassowary eating quandongs, one of its favorite fruits. Photo by Christian Ziegler

REPRODUCTION

Cassowaries are birds of solitary habits, they meet only in breeding season (June to October). The female is dominant over the male and can mate with several males, putting different clutches on the floor.

cassowary, eggs, huevos, casuario, ous, casuari
Cassowary eggs are green coloured. Foto de Christian Ziegler

The males are responsible for incubating the eggs (4-8) for 50 days and take care of the chicks up to one year and four months. These have a plumage with brown, black and white stripes, they turn brown at 5 months of age. The final color and helmet appear when they are between 2 -4 years old.

casuario, pollitos, chicks, cassowary, casuari, pollets, iphone photo
Cassowary with its chicks. Photo by Kaisa Breeden

BEHAVIOUR

They are quiet and peaceful but highly territorial birds. When disturbed or threatened, they do not hesitate to violently attack with their powerful legs and beak. They attack like it is believed Velociraptors did: cassowaries make big jumps and kick their opponents eviscerating them with their powerful claw as if it were a dagger, and causing internal injuries because of blows. The cassowary has killed at least two people in Australia (2009 data) and probably some more that has not been documented in native populations. There have also been cases of bone fractures in people, such as ribs, legs …

In this video you can see how a cassowary attacks:

CONSERVATION AND THREATS

Although they are not dangerous to humans unless they are bothered, the main threat cassowaries suffer is the destruction of their habitat (replacement of the forest by cultivated fields) and forest fragmentation, which prevents access to food and other reproductive groups. There are also frequent car accidents in Australia and attacks of domestic dogs to cassowary chicks. Finally they are also victims of uncontrolled hunting in the area of New Guinea.

Australia, señal de tráfico, casuario, cape tribulation, cassowary, traffic signal
Traffic signal in Cape Tribulation, Australia, warning of the presence  of cassowaries. Photo by Mireia Querol

The Southern cassowary is classified as Vulnerable in the UICN Red List as well as the Northern cassowary. The dwarf cassowary is near threatened. Cassowaries in Australia live in protected areas, and there are also specific conservation plans by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. There are no reliable population data in New Guinea.

As we have seen, the cassowary is a spectacular bird that arouse great respect but is in danger. We encourage you to leave your comments and your experiences about it if you have traveled to their habitat and have been lucky enough to see one in the wild.

REFERENCES

 MIREIA QUEROL ALL YOU NEED IS BIOLOGY

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