The cassowary is one of the world’s largest birds that don’t fly, although they do compensate for this by being fast runners and very good swimmers

The cassowary is one of the world’s largest birds that don’t fly, although they do compensate for this by being fast runners and very good swimmers.

Belonging to the ratite family of birds along with the emu, ostrich, rhea, kiwi, and the now extinct moa, there are three different species of this bird, which get their name from the Indonesian word for birds, kesuari.

Species, Habitat and Population

The three species of this bird can be found in their natural habitat, the tropical rainforests of northeastern Australia, with other sub-species of the bird in New Guinea and the nearby surrounding islands. The southern bird also sometimes called the double-wattled cassowary, is native to both Australia and New Guinea, while the northern bird was native to only New Guinea. The dwarf bird can be found in New Britain and New Guinea.

With the clearing of most of the natural rainforests, some fear that this bird is vulnerable to extinction and is already classified as an endangered species. Although numbers vary by source, it’s realistically estimated that there are only 1,500 to 3,000 of these birds in their natural habitat, however, some optimistic sources quote numbers as high as 10,000.


Cassowaries have several distinctive physical features, separating them from other large birds that don’t fly, such as the emu or ostrich. Their feathers or plumage are rather coarse and bristle-like with the females being slightly more colorful than their male counterparts.

Size: These birds may grow as large as nearly six and a half feet (2 m), with females being slightly larger than the males.


The cassowary is a colorful bird as the head is light blue and morphs into a brownish color further down the neck, followed by a black body. Some reddish colored skin can also be seen on the neck as well as an orange patch on the back of the head. The legs and feet may either be brownish-gray or greenish-gray, and two out of three of the species have a red wattle, which is the fleshy, loose skin hanging from the neck.


Both the male and female have a boney helmet referred to as a casque, making them the only type of bird to have this form of protective armor. Pointing slightly forward and gray in color, the tough, horny casque enables the cassowary to make its way safely through the thick underbrush of the rainforest.


They has a diet consisting of mostly seeds and fruits that have either fallen, or that can be found on low tree branches making them frugivorous (fruit eating). This type of bird also eats small birds and dead marsupials found on the ground as well as insects, frogs, snakes, or even fungi.

The cassowary plays an important role in helping to populate the rainforest with more flora as the seeds they eat pass through their system unchanged, landing on the ground, and becoming implanted, growing again into more fruit.

Breeding Facts:

The female produces eggs that are a pale bluish-green color, usually laying anywhere from 3 to 8 large eggs at a time during breeding season, which is from May until November.

The male of the species contributes by incubating the eggs for roughly eight weeks, and then also taking care of their young until they are about nine months old, with the female playing no part in taking care of the eggs or hatchlings.

Hatchlings are born covered in a soft creamy colored down with yellowish-brown stripes, along with black stripes until they are about three months old. As they grow, the cassowary will have head and neck patterns similar to the full-grown adult, with their feathers becoming darker as they age. Young cassowaries also do not have a casque.


Feet: To provide an extra strong grip while running, the cassowary has three toes on each foot, each equipped with claws, with the innermost toe having a five inch long spike that’s used for self-defense.

Although normally shy and docile birds, the cassowary can be aggressive at times and will not hesitate to attack using their sharp claws if they are cornered or feel threatened in some way.


They has a rather unique call that has reportedly been heard as far as three miles away on a quiet night. The call has a throaty tone and has been described as either the sound of thunder in the distance, or similar to a lowing of a cow calling to their young.


The cassowary boasts an impressive lifespan, usually ranging from 40 to 50 years.


The cassowary can run as fast as 32 miles per hour (50 km) and jump as far as five feet, or 1.5 meters.

Ratites differ from others birds in that they do not have a bone in the chest to support flight muscles, making them unable to fly.

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