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Cassowaries are large, flightless birds that are related to emus and found only in Australia and New Guinea. The southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) has glossy black plumage and a bright blue neck, with red colouring at the nape. Two wattles of bare, red coloured skin hang down from the throat. Cassowaries have stout, powerful legs and long feet with 3 toes; the inner toe on each foot has a sharp claw that can reach up to 80 millimetres in length. The name cassowary comes from a Papuan name meaning ‘horned head’, referring to the helmet of tough skin borne on the crown of the head. This helmet (or casque) slopes backwards and is used to push through vegetation as the cassowary runs through the rainforest with its head down. It also reflects age and dominance. The sexes are similar in appearance, although females tend to be larger and heavier. Chicks are striped black and cream, fading to brown after around five months. The adult colouring and casque begin to develop between two and four years of age. Despite its fearsome reputation, sharp claws and powerful kick, the southern cassowary feeds almost entirely on fruit. The female southern cassowary is dominant over the male, and it is the male who incubates the eggs and cares for the chicks.




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