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Cassowary (Casuarius spp.) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

Diet

Food

  • Diverse diet of fruit (Wright 2005; Pangau-Adam and Mühlenberg 2014; Folch et al. 2017a; Folch et al. 2017b, except as noted)
    • Eat fallen fruits of more than 200 plant species (mainly trees and shrubs) (Westcott et al. 2005)
    • Most fruits fall from middle and upper tree canopies (Stocker and Irvine 1983)
    • Cassowaries swallow fruits whole (Davies 2002)
    • May make up 90-99% of the cassowary’s diet (Wright 2005)
    • Seek fruits with nutritious flesh; do not gain nutrition from seeds (void them completely (Moore 2007)
      • Fruit-eating birds prefer larger fruits; edible pulp content increases with fruit diameter (Wheelwright 1993; Pangau-Adam and Mühlenberg 2014)
    • Prefer seasonally fruiting species, when available; rely on continuously fruiting species when less fruit available [Dwarf Cassowary] (Wright 2005)
    • Important plant families (Crome 1976; Stocker and Irvine 1983; Noble 1991)
      • Lauraceae and Myrtaceae
      • Members of Elaeocarpaceae (quondong tree species native to Australia)
      • Arecaceae (palms)
  • Dwarf Cassowaries observed to eat some acorns and even branches when little fruit available (Wright 2005)
  • Northern Cassowaries found to feed on seeds from 10 different palm species (Pangau-Adam and Mühlenberg 2014)
    • Thought to provide food when other fruits unavailability
    • Make up a smaller proportion of diet in forests being logged
    • Also see White (1913) for observations on Southern Cassowary
  • At times, appear to have high protein needs (Biggs 2013)
    • Southern and Dwarf Cassowaries also feed on fungi, invertebrates (snails, insects), and small vertebrates (fish, frogs, rodents, birds) (Davies 2002; Birdlife International 2016b; Folch et al. 2017a; Folch et al. 2017b)
    • Southern Cassowaries eat some carrion (roadkill) and bird eggs (in Australia)
  • Sometimes ingest feces (Mack and Druliner 2003)
  • More known about diet and feeding of Southern Cassowary than about Northern Cassowary (Folch et al. 2017c)

Water

  • Cassowaries seek water (e.g., at waterholes) during the dry season [Southern Cassowary] (Coates 1985)
  • Drink by lowering their head to the water, scooping, and then lifting their head to swallow (Marchant and Higgins 1990; Bentrupperbäumer 1997)

Feeding

  • Fruit picked up from the forest floor or taken from low vegetation (Folch et al. 2017a)
  • Feed singly, in pairs, or small groups; sometimes groups gather at food resources (Folch et al. 2017a; Folch et al. 2017b)
  • Consume 2-9 kg (4.4-19.8 lb) of food per day in captivity (Folch et al. 2017a)
  • At Mission Beach, Queensland, Australia, sometimes steal food from people picnicking on the beach (Folch et al. 2017a)

Precision Feeding

Dwarf Cassowary eating an insect

A Dwarf Cassowary grasps an insect with its bill tip.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

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