Photo of Cassowary
Many thanks to Polish photographer Michal Zacharzewski for the use of this photo.
The three species exist in the
tropical forests on New Guinea and Northeastern Australia. Also some islands
in the vicinity of New Guinea have small populations of Cassowary, but
it is not known whether these are natural inhabitants or a result of trading
when young birds were bought from New Guinea.
All three species inhabit
similar Habitats, but usually avoid meeting one another, since they prefer
different altitudes. Thus the Northern Cassowary lives particularly in
low land forests, the Southern Cassowary in middle latitudes, and the Dwarf
Cassowary in the mountain rain forest. However there are overlaps to the
Habitats and no sharp dividing lines; In areas in which the other species
do not occur, the Dwarf Cassowary can descend all the way down to sea level.
Appearance of the Cassowary
Cassowary are large birds, adults
being between 1.2 and 1.8 metres in size. The Southern Cassowary
is the largest of the three species and is actually the third largest bird
in the world, being only smaller than the ostrich and the Emu. The
Southern Cassowary reaches 1.50 to 1.80 m.
The Cassowaries weigh 35
to 60 kilograms (77 to 130 pounds), with the Southern Cassowary being the
heavier of the 3 species. They are related to the emu, to which
they have a somewhat similar appearance. Their plumage is black,
with a blue and red color on the neck. As in the other strutioniformes,
Cassowaries have atrophied wings and are unable to fly.
Their small wings fold under
the body of the bird, apparently to protect the flanks.
They have a characteristic
large bony protuberance, called a casque (meaning helmet in french), on
the head. The function of this casque is still puzzling. The
traditional explanation is that the device offers protection from head
injuries during fast movements in the dense forest. The birds also
use the helmet to brush aside leaves and dig loose earth in the search
for food. The main function might lie however in the pronouncement of rank
- in other words, the size of the helmet may reflect the social status
of an individual and thus play a role in social behavior. The helmet constantly
grows, although slowly, during the animal's entire life.
It is difficult to differentiate
the gender of Cassowaries. Females are on the average somewhat larger,
have brighter colors and larger helmet. However this is not a reliable
way of distinguishing the two genders.