Northern Cassowary

By Rani Iyer

Scientific Name: Casuarius unappendiculatus

A peculiar bird lives deep in the jungle of Papua New Guinea and Indonesian islands. Its bright feathers may remind you of a peacock, but it isn’t one. It has wings, but can’t fly. They have strong legs that can kick or run. Does the bird remind you of the large flightless bird Emu? You are partly right. Our mystery bird comes from the same family, Casuariidae.

Meet The Northern Cassowary. The solitary birds live only in the coastal swamp and low elevation forests. Here, despite its colorful feathers, you might miss it! The bird is camouflaged in the dark vegetation with its black feathers. The startling golden or red neck is meant for attracting mate.

Northern Cassowary. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
The Northern Cassowary isn’t a small bird. They can stand up to 1.8 m tall (about 69 inches) and weigh 82 lb (about 37 kilograms). The female birds are only slightly smaller. For such a big bird, it wasn’t recorded until 1860. And it was discovered in an aviary in Kolkata, India.

If you surprise the Northern Cassowary, it can give a kick that can slice your skin with its sharp dagger-like claws. Then, it speeds away at 50 kilometers per hour (31 miles per hour) through the dense forest underbrush. Watch out! You might crash into a tree, but the cassowary can jump 2 meters (7 feet) up into the air. As if these weren’t enough to escape from danger, the Northern Cassowary is a great swimmer.

Male and female Cassowary lives alone until it is breeding season. Female birds have large territories that provide them with fruits and small animals. The female bird lays green eggs in the nest made by male. The male takes care of the chicks for about 2 months after which the chicks live on their own. The birds talk to each other through booms. A helmet or casque on the head of every Cassowary is useful to make low frequency sounds called booms.

Sadly, the splendid bird is in great danger of being lost forever. People have displaced the Cassowary habitat in the river flood plains. There are other ways people harm Cassowary. The local people use Cassowary as a gift in ceremonies. The feathers are used as decoration and bones are used as tools. Hunting Cassowary for meat continues even today.

See Cassowary species in action at:


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