Cassowaries are very large flightless birds native to the tropical forests of New Guinea and Australia. Some nearby islands also have small cassowary populations: it is not known if these are natural or the result of the trade in young birds carried on by the peoples of New Guinea. They are frugivorous; fallen fruit and fruit on low branches is the mainstay of their diet. They also eat fungi, insects, frogs, snakes and other small animals. Lifespan is thought to be about 40-50 years.
- Southern Cassowary Casuarius casuarius of Australia and New Guinea.
- Dwarf Cassowary C. bennetti of New Guinea and New Britain.
- Northern Cassowary C. unappendiculatus of New Guinea.
Adult Southern Cassowaries are 1.5 to 1.8 meters (5½ feet) tall and weigh about 60 kilograms (130 pounds). They have a bony casque on the head that is used to batter through underbrush, making them the only armored bird in the world. Females are bigger and more brightly coloured.
Normally cassowaries are very shy but when cornered can lash out dangerously with their powerful legs. Their three-toed feet have sharp claws; the dagger-like middle claw is twelve centimeters (five inches) long. They can run up to 50 km/hr (32 mph) and jump up to 1.5 meters (five feet). They are good swimmers.
Females lay three to eight large, pale green-blue eggs in each clutch. These eggs measure about nine by 14 centimeters (3½ by 5½ inches) -- only Ostrich and Emu eggs are larger. The female does not care for the eggs or the chicks; the male incubates the eggs for two months, then cares for the brown-striped chicks for nine months.
Southern Cassowaries are a threatened species because of habitat loss; estimates of their current population range from 1500 to 10,000 individuals. About 40 are kept in captivity in Australia.\n