Cassowary Birds Are Not Friendly Pets
While all bird species are modern-day dinosaurs, cassowaries need a little less convincing. Despite their striking appearance and similarity to often domesticated species like emus and ostriches, we must face a powerful truth. Cassowaries do not make friendly pets. In fact, cassowaries are rumored to be one of the most dangerous animals! But is this ferocious stereotype true? Yes…and no. Read along to learn more about these avian giants and why they’ve garnered such a fierce reputation.
Monsters! Dinosaurs! …Birds? What Are Cassowaries?
A dazzling triad of birds, cassowaries live in a relatively small part of the world. They are only found in New Guinea and on a few surrounding islands with a couple of subpopulations of the southern species in Northern Australia. Similar to ostriches and emus, cassowaries are large, flightless birds.
Fun Fact: The name ‘Cassowary’ is a combination of two Papuan words: ‘kasu’ meaning horned and ‘wari’ meaning head.
Stunning or Scary? What Do They Look Like?
With vivid color choice and a statement headdress, cassowaries are nothing short of fashionistas. Three of their attributes make them truly unforgettable.
- Plumage: When other birds evolved feathers for flight, these birdies have long, jet black feathers that look like curtain tassels. The feathers protect the birds from the weather and terrain of their rainforest home.
- Casque: Perhaps their most distinct feature, all three species have a helmet, or casque, that tops their heads. This wild helmet helps them maintain a comfortable temperature. It conserves heat in the cold and dispels heat in hot temperatures.
- Wattle: While all three species have a featherless neck, two of them (the Northern and Southern cassowaries) also have a wattle. A wattle is a pouch of flesh that hangs from a bird’s neck or chin. (Think: rooster)
The Different Species
There are three species of cassowary. Learn more about the unique characteristics of each below:
- Northern cassowary (Casuarius unappendiculatus): Also called the single-wattled cassowary, this bird has the largest casque of any of the three species. Their throats and wattles are very colorful, ranging from golden to red.
- Southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius): AKA the double-wattled cassowary, this is the second heaviest bird species in the world! At a whopping 5.5 feet tall and upwards of 150lbs at their largest, the southern cassowary does not mess around. Its two red wattles stand out against the bright blue neck. Combined with its large casque, it has quite a formidable appearance.
- Dwarf cassowary (Casuarius bennetti): While it’s the smallest of the cassowaries, at a whopping 40lbs, this is no tiny bird. Beyond its size, the dwarf cassowary is distinct from the other two species because it doesn’t have a wattle. Additionally, fashionable bright pink shoulders contrast the blue neck, making this bird runway ready.
Fun Fact: Cassowaries make an array of different sounds from hisses to grumbles. Their low rumble is the lowest frequency sound of any bird species. Humans can barely hear it!
Romping in the Wild
Before we get into why you shouldn’t keep one of these fabulous birds as a pet, let’s take a closer look at some key aspects of their ecology.
Cassowaries are frugivores, meaning they eat the fruit, seeds, and nuts that are plentiful in their rainforest homes. As some of the largest frugivores in their ecosystems, they are able to eat larger fruits than other animals in their community.
Fun Fact: The seeds of some tree species are much more likely to sprout after passing through the digestive tract of a cassowary!
Behavior – Powerful Ladies
For most of the year, cassowaries are solitary. They prefer to amble the forest alone rather than socializing with other avian giants. Notably, females are larger than males. If two males run into each other in the forest, they may scuff and grumble until one decides to back down. However, if a male encounters a female, he’s going to run away as fast as he can. Often 40lbs heavier than the males, females are a force to be reckoned with!
The only exception to this fear-response is during the breeding season. The females tolerate the males for a couple of weeks until they lay a clutch of eggs. Then it’s back to roaming the forest! They leave the males to incubate the eggs and care for the young.
The Dangers of Cassowaries
It’s clear that these dazzling specimens prefer to spend their time in solitude. So what’s with their notoriety? Cassowaries have garnered the reputation of being one of the most dangerous birds. Apart from a freak incident with a rooster, cassowaries and ostriches are the only birds known to have killed humans. But with humans infringing more and more on cassowary habitat, we are left wondering if these attacks are malicious or out of self-defense?
A Sharp Claw and a Swift Kick
To put it bluntly, cassowaries have daggers on their feet. One toe on each foot has a four inches long claw! Powering those claw are strong legs that can deliver swift and bone-breaking kicks. Beyond that, cassowaries can sprint up to 30 miles per hour, so don’t plan on out-running one in a foot race.
Running isn’t where their superpowers stop. They are agile swimmers and can jump upwards of 6 feet in the air.
Fun Fact: Aside from a defense mechanism, cassowaries’ giant claws are especially useful when foraging. They can dig through leaf litter and roots to find the tastiest snacks.
The Attack of the Cassowary
The fear of cassowaries stems from a blood-stained history of attacking people, dogs, and sometimes even horses. There have been upwards of 150 documented attacks on people, with a few even ending in death. However, it’s important to note the trends behind these attacks. Here are some of the reasons behind the attacks along with some tips to keep yourself and the birds safe.
- Increased Human-Cassowary Contact: In the past century, humans have been developing the coastal forests that make up their habitat.
- Leave Dog at Home: Dingos are one of the cassowaries’ natural predators, so they have an instinctual response when they see a dog-like critter.
- Sharing is NOT Caring: The number one takeaway from this article should be: Don’t feed the cassowaries. Once they have had a taste of human food, the crested birds start believing all people are treat-dispensers. The vast majority of attacks are connected to food.
- Respect Cassowary Habitat: The attacks that aren’t associated with food usually involve a male defending its nest.
Overall, cassowaries will attack humans, but fatalities are rare. However, the increase in altercations seems to result from the mirrored increase in exposure. So keeping cassowaries as pets is far from a good idea.
Further, humans pose even more of a danger to cassowaries than they do to us. Many are killed by traffic and feral dogs, and even more are threatened with the loss of habitat due to human development. Since we can’t keep these giant birds as pets, we should do as much as possible to help keep cassowaries thriving in the wild.
[Featured Image by Simon Bardet from Pixabay]