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Cassowary (Casuarius spp.) Fact Sheet, 2017   Tags: australia, bird, cassowary, egg, fact sheet, feather, flightless, fruit, hunting, indonesia, nest, new guinea, ratite, san diego zoo, sdzg, seed, territorial, territory  

Cassowary (Casuarius spp.)
Last Updated: May 10, 2017 URL: http://ielc.libguides.com/sdzg/factsheets/cassowary Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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Cassowary (Casuarius spp.) Fact Sheet, 2017

Southern Cassowary

Southern Cassowary. Mission Beach, Australia.

Image credit: © Randy Floyd via Flickr. All rights reserved. Used with permission from the artist.

TaxonomyPhysical Characteristics

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Struthioniformes — cassowaries, emus, ostriches, rheas, kiwis, tinamous

Family: Casuariidae — cassowaries, emus

Genus: Casuarius

Species: Casuarius casuarius Southern Cassowary
Species: Casuarius unappendiculatus — Northern Cassowary
Species: Casuarius bennetti — Dwarf Cassowary

Subspecies: C. b. bennetti
Subspecies: C. b. papuanus
Subspecies: C. b. westermanni

Body Weight
Southern Cassowary, male: 29-55 kg (64-121 lb)
Southern Cassowary, female: up to 76 kg (167 lb)
Northern Cassowary: no reliable estimates available; weight more similar to Southern than Dwarf Cassowary

Dwarf Cassowary: up to 29 kg (63 lb)

Body Length
Southern Cassowary: 130-170 cm (51-70 in)
Northern Cassowary: 120-150 cm (47-59 in)
Dwarf Cassowary: 100-110 cm (39-43 in)

Plumage
Black, satin-like feathers on neck, body, and tail. Feathers loose, fluffy, and drooping, like emus and ostriches. Neck bare, with brightly colored skin.

Distribution & StatusBehavior & Ecology

Range
All three species found in New Guinea and some adjacent islands. Southern Cassowary also found in northeastern Australia.

Habitat
Forest; preference for old growth forests. Also forest edges, riverbanks, mangroves, and fruit plantations.
Southern and Northern Cassowaries often found in lowlands; Dwarf Cassowary typically found at higher elevations.

IUCN Status
Southern Cassowary: Vulnerable
Northern Cassowary: Vulnerable
Dwarf Cassowary: Least Concern

CITES Appendix
None of the three species is listed.

Other Designations
Considered Endangered under Australian federal law.

Population in Wild
Southern Cassowary: 10,000-20,000
Northern Cassowary: 3,500-15,000
Dwarf Cassowary: unknown

Locomotion
Walk, run fast. Capable swimmers.

Activity Cycle
Most active in the morning and late in the day. Spend about a third of the day foraging. Rest at night.

Social Groups
Often solitary, except for male parent and chick family groups. Interactions between adults rare outside of the breeding season.

Diet
Mainly fallen fruit, but also thought to have high protein needs, at times (feed on small mammals and reptiles).

Predators
Humans, dogs, and feral pigs

Reproduction & DevelopmentSpecies Highlights

Sexual Maturity
Physically mature at about 3 years old; begin breeding successfully from 4-5 years old.

Breeding Season
Can breed year-round, but primarily breed June-November in the wild

Incubation period
About 50 days

Clutch Size
Southern Cassowary: 3-8 eggs
Northern Cassowary: presumably 3-5 eggs (not well known)
Dwarf Cassowary: 2-5 eggs reported, but typical clutch may be 2-3 eggs

Birth Weight
Not well known. One study suggests about 584 g (20.6 oz) in Southern Cassowary; the average may be closer to 450 g (15.9 oz).

Age at Independence
9-12 months

Longevity
In the wild: not reported
In captivity: long-lived; at least 50-60 years old

Feature Facts

  • Flightless bird
  • Swallows fruits whole
  • Southern Cassowary is the world's largest fruit-eating bird
  • Important dispersers of seeds; influence rainforest plant communities
  • Humans have had a strong influence on present day cassowary distributions
  • Northern Cassowary is the least well known of the three cassowary species; heavily hunted by humans in northern New Guinea
  • Cassowaries produce some of the lowest frequency sounds of any bird
  • Good swimmers; have a "fondness for water"
  • Complex breeding systems
  • Lay green eggs
  • Territorial, sometimes aggressive; if conflict escalates to a fight, charge opponents with jumping kicks and use their large claws to protect territory, mates, and young
  • Potentially dangerous to humans if provoked or habituated to being fed by people
  • In 1957, the first cassowary chick known to be successfully hatched and reared in captivity occured at the San Diego Zoo!
 

About This Fact Sheet

© 2017 San Diego Zoo Global

How to cite: Cassowary (Casuarius spp.) Fact Sheet, 2017. c2017. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Global; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. http://ielc.libguides.com/sdzg/factsheets/cassowary
(note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2015 Sep 10)

Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Global makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to library@sandiegozoo.org.

Note about citations used in this fact sheet: Some information in this fact sheet is reported only for certain cassowary species. These facts are noted:

  • In the body text (e.g., "Southern Cassowaries have plumage with...")
  • With an in-text citation stating the species' common name and literature source: [Dwarf Cassowary] (Purchase et al. 2013)
 

Acknowledgments

We wish to thank Dr. Andrew L. Mack and Ms. Nicole LaGreco for providing expert content review of this fact sheet.


Dr. Andrew L. Mack is a conservation biologist with extensive experience working to protect tropical birds in Papua New Guinea, including cassowaries from overhunting. From 1990-1993, he conducted fieldwork with cassowaries to investigate their diet and ecological role in New Guinea rainforests. Dr. Mack has also published research on the cassowary's ability to produce low frequency vocalizations.

Dr. Mack is a past Director of the IndoPacific Conservation Alliance, and has held positions with Conservation International and Wildlife Conservation Society. He is the author of Searching for Pekpek: Cassowaries and Conservation in the New Guinea Rainforest.

For more information on Dr. Mack’s career, academic research, and conservation projects, visit cassowaryconservation.com.


Nicole LaGreco, an Animal Care Manager with the San Diego Zoo’s Avian Propagation Center, has made significant contributions to cassowary captive management manuals, including Biggs (2013), and several husbandry workshops. She serves on the Struthioniformes steering committee as well as the steering committee of the Avian Scientific Advisory Group, which promotes excellence in bird care and conservation among Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) institutions.

Ms. LaGreco first became involved with cassowaries at Zoo Atlanta. While preparing for an exhibit, she learned there was no studbook. With the encouragement of her curator, she applied to become the first studbook keeper. Ms. LaGreco has held the North American Regional Studbook for 13 years and the International Studbook for 4 years (as of 2017).

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