Cassowary Facts

This article contains cassowary facts for kids and adults, and is part of our Australian Animals series.

On this page we’ll learn all about this large (and occasionally aggressive) flightless Australian bird.

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Quick Cassowary Facts

Below are the 10 top Cassowary facts.

  1. There are three species of Cassowary: the Northern Cassowary, Southern Cassowary and Dwarf Cassowary.
  2. All three species of Cassowary are found in New Guinea, but only the Southern Cassowary is found in Australia.
  3. The Southern Cassowary is the largest Cassowary.
  4. The only bird heavier than the Southern Cassowary is the ostrich. Only Ostriches and Emus are taller than the Southern Cassowary.
  5. Cassowaries help spread seeds, which are returned to the forest undigested in the bird’s droppings. The seeds of the Ryparosa tree have been found to be more likely to germinate (sprout) after having passed through a Cassowary!
  6. The Northern and Southern Cassowary are rated ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List. The Dwarf Cassowry is rated ‘Of Least Concern’.
  7. Cassowaries can run at speeds of up to 50 km/h (30 mph).
  8. Cassowaries can jump up to 1.5 m (almost 5 feet) high!
  9. Cassowaries can be dangerous if approached, and have been known to kill humans with their sharp claws.
  10. Female cassowaries are bigger and more brightly coloured than the males.

Cassowary Facts For Kids And Adults: Introduction

Southern Cassowary
The Southern Cassowary is the world’s second heaviest, and third tallest, bird.

Cassowaries are large, flightless birds. Their bodies are covered with bushy black feathers that look like thick hair. Their legs are long and powerful, and their large feet are equipped with sharp claws.

Cassowaries are very distinctive birds. They are easily identified by bright blue and red colours of their heads and necks. They also have a large horn-like structure – called a casque – that grows from the top of their heads.

There are three species of Cassowary. The largest and most common of these is the Southern Cassowary.

The Southern Cassowary is the world’s second heaviest, and third tallest, living bird*. Southern Cassowaries can grow up to 1.8 metres (5.9 feet) tall!

* Strictly speaking, now that ostriches have been split into two different species, the Southern Cassowary is the third heaviest and fourth tallest bird.

Cassowaries are found in the rainforests of New Guinea and Australia. They are shy, solitary birds and are rarely seen in the wild.

The Southern Cassowary is the only Cassowary found in Australia.

Cassowary Road Sign
In Queensland, Australia, drivers are warned that cassowaries may be crossing the road!

Cassowary Attacks

Cassowaries are large, powerful birds, equipped with fearsome claws. When approached or cornered, cassowaries can act aggressively. Cassowaries have attacked – and even killed – humans in the past. However, this is extremely rare, and their bad reputation is largely undeserved.

When cassowaries attack they leap into the air, kicking out with their strong legs and slashing with their large claws.

See what a cassowary looks like – and how to deal with one if you meet one – in the video below!

Cassowary Claws

Cassowary feet have three toes. Each toe has a claw, but the ones you need to watch out for are the dagger-shaped inner claws. These are the Cassowary’s main weapons, and can be up to 12.5 cm (5 in) long!

Cassowary Wattles

Wattles are the bits of fleshy skin that hang from the faces or throats of several species of bird. The Northern and Southern Cassowary have colourful wattles. The Northern Cassowary has a single, bright orange wattle. The Southern Cassowary has two long, bright red wattles that hang from its throat.

Cassowary Casques

Cassowary Casque
All cassowaries have ‘casques’ – horn-like helmets on top of their heads.

All Cassowaries have a helmet-like horn called a casque that grows on the top of their heads. There are several theories as to what the casque is for. Some scientists think that it helps the birds to push their way through the undergrowth. Others think that it gives the birds protection from falling fruit and branches. Another theory is that the casque is used to amplify the Cassowary’s low booming calls.

The Three Species Of Cassowary

There are three species of cassowary:

  • Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius), also known as the Double-Wattled Cassowary.
  • Northern Cassowary (Casuarius unappendiculatus) also known as the Single-Wattled Cassowary.
  • Dwarf Cassowary (Casuarius bennetti) also known as the Bennett’s Cassowary.

Southern Cassowary Facts

Cassowary
Southern Cassowary

The Southern Cassowary is the most common cassowary. It is found in New Guinea and Australia, and is the only Cassowary found in Australia. The Southern Cassowary lives in northeast Australia, in the state of Queensland.

The Southern Cassowary is found in Queensland’s Daintree Rainforest. See our Daintree Rainforest article to find out more about this amazing area.

The Southern Cassowary grows up to 1.8 metres (5.9 feet) tall. It is also known as the Double-Wattled Cassowary on account of its two long red wattles.

Northern Cassowary Facts

The Northern Cassowary is found in northern New Guinea. It is only slightly smaller than the Southern Cassowary. It has a single, bright orange or red wattle.

See footage of a Northern Cassowary (taken in a zoo) below.

Dwarf Cassowary Facts

The Dwarf Cassowary may be the smallest cassowary, but it’s still very big for a bird. It grows up to 1.5 m (almost 5 feet) tall.

The Dwarf Cassowary is also slightly plainer than the other two Cassowary species. It has a blue neck, but lacks the colourful wattles of the Northern and Southern species.

The Dwarf Cassowary is found in New Guinea.

This rare forest bird is seldom seen. The photos in the video below were taken with a ‘camera trap’: a hidden camera deep in the forest that is triggered by heat and / or movement!

Cassowary Habitat And Behaviour

Cassowaries are forest birds. They are stocky and more heavily-built than emus and ostriches that live in deserts and grasslands.

Cassowaries are territorial, and spend much of their time alone. They only approach other cassowaries to breed.

Cassowaries hiss and whistle to communicate. They also produce loud booming calls. These are the lowest sounds made by any bird, and can barely be heard by humans. People say that the calls are so low and loud that it makes their insides feel strange!

It is thought that these booms may help cassowaries find each other in the forest. Some scientists believe that the Cassowary’s casque helps it to produce these booming sounds, and that dinosaurs with similar structures may have communicated with low booming calls in the same way.

What Do Cassowaries Eat?

Cassowaries are mainly ‘fructivores’ (fruit eaters). They will also eat flowers, fungi, small animals and carrion.

Cassowaries are very beneficial to the ecosystem. They can spread seeds over one kilometre from where they were found in their droppings. The seeds of some plants have even been found to be more likely to germinate (sprout) after passing through a Cassowary!

Are Cassowaries Endangered?

Both the Northern and Southern Cassowary are rated Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Populations of both species are declining.

The Dwarf Cassowary is rated ‘Least Concern’.

Cassowary Facts For Kids (And Adults!) Conclusion

We hope that you have enjoyed learning about the three Cassowaries. You can find out about many more incredible Australian Animals here: Australian Animals.

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