I love this bird! I didn’t know about them until recently but they are awesome. They are relics of an age when dinosaurs wandered around and they even have a dinosaur like look going on. Sometimes referred to as the most dangerous bird in the world, these awesome flightless birds can reach up to 6 foot tall!
They get their reputation from a powerful kick, an epic 7 foot jump and deadly razor sharp claws which can reach 5 inches long. However, this is defensive behaviour, the deadly cassowary is mostly vegetarian and quite shy. They live in dense forest and are known as forest gardeners as they can disperse large seeds in large quantities which other animals can’t.
The cassowary has a few strange features including their helmet and wattle. The helmet communicates their age and dominance and is thought to help it head butt twigs out of the way when running from predators. If you’re faced with barriers, perhaps the charging through approach has it’s usefulness? Their wattle and decorative neck are said to be a gift from an old woman. She was imprisoned by a man who fed her awful food which gave her violent indigestion. The cassowary saw this and cut her bonds with his sharp, knife like claw. He then killed the man and to relieve the old woman’s pain, he kicked her in the stomach. This made her feel better and she thanked him by giving him the wattle and neck decoration.
With their steely gaze and intimating deep dino like rumbling call (a boom), these are birds who openly declare their preference for solitary living. But, like most creatures, they need to come together to mate. The male and female will spend a while courting which is followed by the female laying a clutch of large eggs. She then leaves to repeat the ritual with other males. Because of the multiple partners, the eggs laid in one clutch may not all have the same father. But dad doesn’t care. He is dedicated to his eggs, even if they aren’t his genes. He spends 50 days incubating them, during which time he barely eats and will lose 1/3 his body weight. Once they’ve hatched, dad continues in his protective parenting role and babies will even eat his faeces (which contain nutrients but also immune boosting bacteria). These little baby cassowaries will learn by copying dad, staying with him for about a year. During this time, he may have to defend babies from other cassowaries, including their mother. Once the babies leave him, he mates again and the cycle repeats. This is a truly devoted, hard working single parent who really deserves our respect.
Cassowaries are very territorial and don’t like to share space or food. They ask us to reflect on our own personal space and how we treat the personal space of others. Setting boundaries, marking out territory, helps us to feel safe. Setting these limits is also an act of self respect and honouring other people’s boundaries is a mark of respect.
The cassowary is a shy, elusive bird and if you respect it, it will respect you, preferring to run back to the forest instead of attacking.