Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Cassowary - Cyclone Calamity

As promised from last Wednesday's post, today I
will show and tell you about  the Cassowary bird but where are my manners, let me introduce Etty below who lives around the rain forests of Etty Bay Road, near Innisfail, Queensland.  This is the story of how the Cassowaries managed to  survive after the Yasi cyclone on 3 February 2011.  I managed to be the first flight allowed to land a few days after the cyclone devastated the coastline from Cairns to Tully.



 Meet Etty


In Australia, the Cassowary is found in far north Queensland's tropical rain forests, swamps and mangrove forests.   These flightless birds study cloud patterns to know where rain will fall  Cyclones draw birds further away than do simple thunderstorms

This map will give you a better idea of the area that was devastated by Yasi.  The eye of Yasi was to hit Innisfail at 12noon on 3 February.  This is were my family lived so it was a very worrying time.  However, half an hour before it hit,  the eye diverted further down the coast to Mission Beach and beyond. 
File:Cyclone Yasi 2 February 2011 approaching Queensland.jpg
This is what the eye of cyclone Yasi looked like.


It was not long before a couple of my friends and myself went out bird watching.  Above was a fairly major road!  We abandoned the car however even then we finally gave up trying to climb over the fallen trees.  There were no birds heard.   I discovered that the birds also knew when the cyclone was to hit and where so they had all flown away 24 hours before.  Isn't that amazing.  Nature always knows best.


This is what the cyclone did to the farmer's banana crop that year and so for us, bananas were a real luxury and usually only eaten when I bought them for the family.  They were over £1 each at the time.

This is Etty Bay beach after the cyclone.  It is a beautiful small beach and unlike a lot of beaches in Australia, it also had shade from trees.  It was further down the road where my family were living at the time.
Cassowaries are the largest flightless Australia bird, as tall as a person, with unusual feathers and other features that distinguish it from all other birds.  Females are larger than males reaching 6’6” high and weighing 129lbs.  Can run up to 31 MPH, jump 4’9” & good swimmers in rivers & sea.   
Etty had come down to the beach to find food.  
 A striking bird with glossy black plumage, the adult southern cassowary has a tall, brown casque (helmet) on top of its head, a vivid blue and purple neck, long drooping red wattles and amber eyes. 
The purpose of the tall helmet or casque is unknown but it may indicate dominance and age, as it continues to grow throughout life. Recent research indicates it may also assist Cassowaries in "hearing" the low vibrating sound made by other cassowaries.
  The Cassowary's coarse hair-like feathers lack barbules that, in all other birds, hold the feathers together. The cassowary has no tail feathers, and its wing stubs carry a small number of long, modified quills which curve around the body.

  Its heavy, well-muscled leg has three toes, with the inside toe bearing a large dagger-shaped claw (up to  nearly 5” or 120mm long) used for scratching and fighting other birds. 
In April 1926, a group of boys went hunting cassowaries for fun,  As they chased one through the forest, a 16 year old boy called Philip McClean fell over a stick and now the pursuer became the pursued!.  The C turned on the boy, slashed him with his central claw, slicing his jugular vein.  He was the 1st known fatality and one of the few people to be killed of any kind.  The 5"dagger like claw can easily lash out, slice through flesh & disembowel someone.  Since 1990 alone 6 serious attacks on humans have been recorded, especially zoo keepers, one of which was fatal.

Reproductive – Egg
Females lay three to eight large, dark bright green or pale green-blue eggs in each clutch into a prepared heap of leaf litter. These eggs measure about 9 by 14 centimetres (3.5 by 5.5 in) — only Ostrich and Emu eggs are larger. 

The female is more tolerant of the male when it comes to breeding season but only for a few weeks, (they normally live in separate territories).  The breeding season starts in May or June. When she is ready to lay, he leads her to their chosen nest site, where he dances round her in a circle, throat trembling and making low “boo” noises.  He then leads her to the chosen nest site, she squats, he mounts her and she lays the eggs.


The female does not care for the eggs or the chicks but leaves and moves on to lay eggs in the nests of several other males.   

 The male incubates the eggs for 50–52 days, removing or adding litter to regulate the temperature then protects the brown-striped chicks that stay with the male for about nine months, defending them fiercely against all potential predators, including humans. The young males then go off to find a territory of their own.

Back to my story.  As many trees and therefore Cassowary food had gone, there were feeding stations set up and here you see Adrian, a birding friend of mine collecting fruit that Woolworth was donating for the Cassowaries.  Everyday he went and collected it and then went to certain places that Cassowaries had been reported.  He usually went back to these same places every 3rd day.
You can see from the casque that this is a younger bird than Etty and I fed it some fruit.  It eat everything whole and as you see, one piece directly after another!  First a peach, then some apples.


Cassowaries normally feed on the fruits of several hundred rain forest species and usually pass viable seeds in large dense scats. They are known to disperse seeds over distances greater than a kilometre, and thus play an important role in the ecosystem.   

Germination rates for seeds of the a rare Australian rain forest tree Ryparosa were found to be much higher after passing through a cassowary's gut (92% versus 4%). The Wet Tropics depend on Cassowaries to disperse & germinate up to 150 species of rain forest plants. They will take flowers, fungi, snails, insects, frogs, birds, fish, rats, mice, and carrion.

I was fascinated how quickly he eat the fruit however I thought I would slow things down a bit and give him a banana.  He had to work it round so that he had it perpendicular to go down his throat.  Didn’t take too long.  I was amazed that I was able to get close to these usually dangerous birds and privileged to be able to help in their recovery.


This next site was at a very up market hotel very high up on a hill in a rain forest and there was a male and his three 6 month old chicks that he brought to find food.  The hotel had been very badly hit and was closed to guests however they were very worried about the fate of these Cassowaries.

This was the first time I had ever seen a Cassowary chick and I was thrilled to see 3 of them.
The hotel had supplied a drinking vessel for them.

The Cassowary is known as the ‘rainforest gardener’, spreading the seeds of rain forest trees. Sometimes the seeds are so large that no other animal can swallow and disperse them.  Over 238 species of plants have been recorded in the cassowary diet.

"Young Cassowaries chicks are brown and have buffy stripes. They are often kept as pets in native villages in New Guinea, where they are permitted to roam like barnyard fowl. Often they are kept until they become nearly grown and someone gets hurt.  The Cassowary is mature by about three years of age.
After eating and drinking they were ready for a rest so we departed on to another site to feed some more hungry Cassowaries.

So back to see Etty having a drink however before I finish I would like you to know some of the other things that threaten Cassowaries.

A number of factors affect Cassowary survival. The major threats include the loss, fragmentation and modification of habitat, vehicle strikes, dog attacks, human interactions, pigs, disease and natural catastrophic events such as Cyclones.

Once common in far north Queensland, the Cassowary's traditional feeding grounds, particularly the coastal lowlands have been seriously reduced by land clearing for farming, urban settlement and other development. Widespread clearing and fragmentation of rain forest habitat have reduced Cassowary numbers, until, today, the Cassowary is threatened with extinction. Cassowaries are sometimes killed when crossing roads. In the Mission Beach area, road accidents are the greatest single cause of Cassowary deaths.

Unrestrained and wild dogs are a major cause of Cassowary deaths, particularly in areas near residential development. Chicks and sub-adults are small enough to be killed by dogs. However, packs of dogs also kill adult birds, Pigs cause disturbance to the rain forest and compete with cassowaries for fallen fruit. They may also eat cassowary eggs and destroy nests.
I have a video which can be accessed at
If there is a black space below, click it and the video will be appear.


I hope you enjoyed seeing and hearing about this unusual bird.    I went back the next year and I have a lot more exciting news that I would like to share with you, however I am not promising when I will have it ready to publish as it is going to take days, maybe weeks of work as I have a lot of video to upload and edit.  Anyhow, at this bleak time of the year, it will be something to look forward to!

Many thanks for visiting and also thanks for all the comments on my blogs.

I am linking with Wild Bird WednesdayWild Bird Wednesday


  1. How lovely to hear that there was support for the cassowaries after Cyclone Yasi. Stunning birds, and a heart warming post. Thank you.

  2. It is a very unusual bird! Love the chicks! I enjoyed your photos and video..Enjoy the rest of your week!

  3. I agree, a very unusual bird, and I loved reading and discovering more about it.

  4. you got some incredible photos of the cassowary; that last one is amazing!! Well done Margaret!

  5. Bird could have been a cast member in Jurassic Park. :-)

  6. Margaret? This was such an extraordinary post!!! Of such an extraordinary bird!! I think, for me personally, this is the BEST blog post you've ever done!!! Amazing.

    Those feet/claws and to read about it 'slicing' the boy's body. Wow. And the chicks...
    From the beginning to the end, this was an incredible read.

  7. We stayed at Etty Bay many years ago, but haven't seen it since Yasi. It's always a thrill to see a Cassowary in the wild - but I wouldn't get anywhere near those killer claws if I could help it!!

  8. This is the first I have ever heard of Cassowaries. Fascinating how they eat fruit whole and their claws are scary. Yes, it is amazing how birds often know the upcoming weather!

  9. Great to know about this bird. I have never seen shots of this bird with good clarity.

  10. really enjoyed seeing and learning about these huge bids. so glad they were tended to after the storm damage.

  11. Wow, what a fascinating bird! And it's amazing how animals can sense natural disasters and move to safety before they strike. Thanks for sharing the photos, and all of the information too.

  12. what amazing and scary birds!

  13. What a terrific series of photos, and a touching story! I saw a Cassowary when I was in the Daintree.

  14. They look prehistoric with the helmet on their heads and the razor sharp claws. I would be curious about their history. Do they exist anywhere else besides this area in Australia? I love that you were able to go help them after the Cyclone ... man has made such mess of our natural habitats none of the wildlife is fairing well. And we are suposed to be the smart ones ... they forgot to mention that being able to reason doesn't preclude greed. Thank you, Margaret for this walk through the life of a bird unseen and mostly unheard of in my part of the world. I have learned a lot and I love this bird. It is much like the raptors in that it is beautiful and yet can be dangerous. I look forward to your next post and seeing more video. I assume that was Etty in the video you posted today. What a wonderful speciman ... there is so much to love about nature and I truly appreciate that you share your geneous knowledge with us.

    Andrea @ From The Sol

  15. another wonderful post-I've seen the Cassowary when in Australia but I didn't anything about them, I enjoyed your information.

  16. Margaret this is the most amazing and informative post ! I knew nothing at all about this bird (I guess if I'd seen the word out-of-context, I would have known it WAS a bird, but that's about all.) I read the whole post open-mouthed in awe... about the birds themselves, about how they and other birds know to move away from natural disasters, about you and your friends work in feeding these amazing birds after the damage... oh my gosh, this was just wonderful. I am going to look at the video but wanted to comment first so that I would forget to come back and do so. Thanks for this great post.

  17. This is a most unusual bird,yet in it's own way kind of cute.

  18. Such unusual birds and what a great narrative and video! That first photo is so vivid, almost a caricature of an imaginary creature. Thanks so much and also for your concern about their welfare.

  19. this is a stunning bird indeed. I hae ehard of it and was amazed. Thanks for sharing it. :)

  20. Great photos and video of the cassowaries. You had outstanding chances to experience the after-effects of the cyclone. Even this far south bananas were far too expensive for many months!

  21. Absolutely fascinating! I had no idea what they looked like. They show no fear of humans either. Wow!

  22. Such an interesting post, Margaret. And such an unusual bird. Not one to be taken lightly with that saber-toe thing they use as a weapon.

  23. Thank you for a fascinating post about both the cassowaries and the cyclone. I didn't know that this bird existed before reading your posts.

  24. Enjoyed seeing the Cassosaries… Etta probably feels pretty special!!!! But--I love the babies.. SO cute… Thanks for sharing… Sad though about the damage Mother Nature can give us… But you are right---the critters somehow must know when there's danger around… They seem to be able to get out of the way!


  25. What a great post and such a lot of work to put it all together. I so wanted to see the Cassowary when we were in Q'lnd but unfortunately missed out. Mainly due to my husband's work commitments at the time, so it was particularly nice to see it here with the video as well.

    Thanks for your comment on my roses, the petals were desiccated due to the extreme heat, even inside the house.I always pick my roses at dawn, as these were, straight into a bucket of water to their necks but by lunch time, their delicate petals had succumbed to the heat. Normally they keep very well. Thanks anyway.

  26. Hi! What a fascinating post! I have never seen Cassowary. Your post is very interesting and impressive. Thanks for sharing.

  27. This is something out of Jurassic Park! Very cool bird! I hope that trend can be reversed.....dogs, cars, and pigs. Sounds like something we the humans can stop or change.

  28. What an interesting bird! Gorgeous big eyes with long eyelashes. Thank you for sharing!

  29. What a fascinating post. Such great photos documenting the storm damage and the survival of these magnificent birds.

  30. I like this article, because you present such a beautiful Cassowary Bird Images and information.