Casuarius casuarius Linnaeus, 1758, Seram.
OTHER COMMON NAMES
English: Double-wattled cassowary, two-wattled cassowary, Australian cassowary, kudari; French: Casoar а casque; German: Helmkasuar; Spanish: Casuario Comъn.
50–67 in (127–170 cm); female 128 lb (58 kg), male 64–75 lb (29–34 kg). Distinguished from the other cassowaries by having two wattles hanging from the neck. The bare skin of the head and neck is vividly colored in blue and red, and the legs are gray-green to gray-brown. The species has an especially long inner toenail or spike up to 5 in (12 cm) in length. Chicks are longitudinally striped with black, brown, and cream, and they have a chestnut head and neck for their first three to six months. Immatures have dark brown plumage and small casques, acquiring their colorful necks toward the end of their first year, and glossy adult plumage in about three years.
The Australian populations are all north of Townsville, Queensland, on the eastern side of Cape York. It is widespread in southern, eastern, and northwestern New Guinea, the Aru Islands, and Seram. The population on Seram has probably been introduced.
The southern cassowary lives mainly in lowland rainforest, below 3,600 ft (about 1,100 m).
Although usually shy, some birds will become tame enough near settlements to approach places where food is regularly put out for them. Adults are territorial, no more than two associating together, except that the chicks stay with their father for about nine months.
FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET
The southern cassowary feeds on the fallen fruits of rainforest trees, fungi, and a few insects and small vertebrates.
In Australia the southern cassowary breeds in the winter—June and July—coinciding with the abundance of forest fruit, especially laurels (of the family Lauraceae). The nest, on the ground, is often close to the roots of a large tree, and the clutch consists of up to four lime green eggs. Males and females hold separate territories except for a few weeks at laying time. Incubation, by the male alone, 47–61 days, with variation thought to be a response to ambient temperature. Polyandrous females may take on another male or two before mating season ends, providing a clutch of eggs for each of her partners. The chicks stay with the male for up to nine months.
The status of the southern cassowary is uncertain. It requires large areas of undisturbed rainforest to flourish. As these are logged or disturbed by roadmaking and settlement, the bird’s future is put at risk. Some are killed on the roads. Feral animals such as pigs and dogs disturb the nests in their search for eggs, causing the population to shrink. In New Guinea the bird is hunted and snared for food, but while large tracts of forest remain, it is secure.
SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS
Both in Australia and New Guinea the southern cassowary is incorporated into the mythology of the indigenous peoples, but it is still hunted by them, and the chicks captured, to be kept in pens in the villages until they are large enough to eat.
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