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The southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) also known as double-wattled cassowary, Australian cassowary or two-wattled cassowary, is a large flightless black bird. It is a ratite and therefore related to the emu, ostrich, and the genus Rhea. (See also dwarf cassowary and northern cassowary.)
It has stiff, bristly black plumage, a blue face and neck, red on the nape and two red wattles measuring around 17.8 cm (7.0 in) in length hanging down around its throat. A horn-like brown casque, measuring 13 to 16.9 cm (5.1 to 6.7 in) high, sits atop the head. The bill can range from 9.8 to 19 cm (3.9 to 7.5 in). The three-toed feet are thick and powerful, equipped with a lethal dagger-like claw up to 12 cm (4.7 in) on the inner toe. The plumage is sexually monomorphic, but the female is dominant and larger with a longer casque, larger bill and brighter-colored bare parts. The juveniles have brown longitudinal striped plumage. It is the largest member of the cassowary family and is the second heaviest bird on earth, at a maximum size estimated at 85 kg (187 lb) and 190 cm (75 in) tall. Normally this species ranges from 127–170 cm (50–67 in) in length. The height is normally 1.5–1.8 m (4.9–5.9 ft) and females average 58.5 kg (129 lb) and males averaging 29–34 kg (64–75 lb). Most adult birds will weigh between 17 and 70 kg (37 and 154 lb). It is technically the largest Asian bird (since the extinction of the Arabian ostrich, and previously the moa of New Zealand) and the largest Australian bird (though the emu may be slightly taller).
Range and habitat
|Range of the southern cassowary|
The southern cassowary is distributed in tropical rainforests of Indonesia, New Guinea and northeastern Australia, and it prefers elevations below 1,100 m (3,600 ft) in Australia, and 500 m (1,600 ft) on New Guinea.
|Southern Papua New Guinea||unknown||Declining|
|Northeastern Australia||1,500 to 2,500||Declining|
|**Jardine River National Park||Unknown||Unknown|
It forages on the forest floor for fallen fruit and is capable of safely digesting some fruits toxic to other animals. They also eat fungi, and some insects and small vertebrates. The southern cassowary is a solitary bird, that pairs only in breeding season, which takes place in late winter or spring. The male builds a nest on the ground; a mattress of herbaceous plant material 5 to 10 centimetres (2–4 in) thick and up to 100 centimetres (39 in) wide. This is thick enough to let moisture drain away from the eggs. The male also incubates the eggs and raises the chicks alone. A clutch of three or four eggs are laid measuring 138 by 95 millimetres (5.4 in × 3.7 in). They have a granulated surface and are initially bright pea-green in colour although they fade with age.
They make a booming call during mating season and hissing and rumblings otherwise. Chicks will make frequent high-pitches whistles to call the male.
The blade-like claws are capable of killing humans and dogs if the bird is provoked.
Due to ongoing habitat loss, limited range, and overhunting in some areas, the southern cassowary is evaluated as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Australian population is listed as Endangered under Federal and Queensland State legislation. Some threats are through habitat loss (logging), feral animals eating their eggs, hunting, and roadkill. Road building, feral animals and hunting are the worst of these threats. It has an occurrence range of 396,000 km2 (153,000 sq mi), and between 10,000 and 20,000 birds were estimated in a 2002 study, with between 1,500 and 2,500 in Australia. There are occurrences of southern cassowaries being bred outside of Australia in captivity, like at White Oak Conservation in Yulee, Florida, United States.
Presently, most authorities consider the southern cassowary monotypic, but several subspecies have been described. It has proven very difficult to confirm the validity of these due to individual variations, age-related variations, the relatively few available specimens (and the bright skin of the head and neck – the basis of which several subspecies have been described – fades in specimens), and that locals are known to have traded live cassowaries for hundreds, if not thousands of years, some of which are likely to have escaped/been deliberately introduced to regions away from their origin.
Cassowaries, of the family Casuariidae, are closely related to the kiwis in the family Apterygidae, with these two bird families diverging from a common ancestor 40 million years ago. The southern cassowary is in the class Aves, which includes all birds; those that can fly as well as those that cannot.
Their binomial name Casuarius casuarius is derived from the Malay word kesuari, meaning cassowary. The southern cassowary was first described by Carolus Linnaeus in his 18th century work, Systema Naturae, as Struthio casuarius, from a specimen from Seram, in 1758. It is now the type species of the genus Casuarius.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Casuarius casuarius". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
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