AskDefine | Define cassowary

Dictionary Definition

cassowary n : large black flightless bird of Australia and New Guinea having a horny head crest

User Contributed Dictionary



cassowary (plural cassowaries)
  1. A large flightless bird of the genus Casuarius, native to Australia and New Guinea, with a characteristic bony crest on its head, and can be very dangerous.


Malay kasuari, name of the same bird


Extensive Definition

Cassowaries (genus Casuarius) are very large flightless birds native to the tropical forests of New Guinea and northeastern Australia. Some nearby islands also have small cassowary populations, but it is not known if these are natural or the result of the New Guinea trade in young birds. They are frugivorous; fallen fruit and fruit on low branches is the mainstay of their diet. They also eat fungi, snails, insects, frogs, snakes and other small animals. They are a keystone species of rain forests because they eat fallen fruit whole and distribute seeds across the jungle floor via excrement.

Taxonomy and evolution

Cassowaries (from the Indonesian name kasuari) are part of the ratite group, which also includes the emu, rhea, ostrich, moa (now extinct), and kiwi. There are three species recognized today:
The evolutionary history of cassowaries, as of all ratites, is not well known. A fossil species was reported from Australia, but for reasons of biogeography this assignment is not certain and it might belong to the prehistoric "emuwaries", Emuarius, which were cassowary-like primitive emus.
Cassowaries are aggressive birds that nest on the ground. The Cassowary is the second largest flightless bird on the planet, second only to the ostrich. Although the Australian Emu can stand taller, it's overall size and weight is less than the Cassowary.


The Northern and Dwarf Cassowaries are not well known. All cassowaries are usually shy birds of the deep forest, adept at disappearing long before a human knows they are there. Even the more accessible Southern Cassowary of the far north Queensland rain forests is not well understood.
The Southern Cassowary is the largest land creature in Australia and the second heaviest extant bird in the world after the ostrich. It is third tallest after the ostrich and emu.
A cassowary's three-toed feet have sharp claws; the dagger-like middle claw is 120 mm (5 inches) long. This claw is particularly dangerous since the Cassowary can use it to kill an enemy, disembowelling it with a single kick. They can run up to 50 km/h (32 mph) through the dense forest. They can jump up to 1.5 m (5 feet) and they are good swimmers.
All three species have horn-like crests called casques on their heads. These consist of "a keratinous skin over a core of firm, cellular foam-like material". Several purposes for the casques have been proposed. One possibility is that they are secondary sexual characteristics. Other suggestions include that they are used to batter through underbrush, as a weapon for dominance disputes, or as a tool for pushing aside leaf litter during foraging. The latter three are disputed by biologist Andrew Mack on the basis of personal observation. However, the earlier article by Crome and Moore says that the birds do lower their heads when they are running "full tilt through the vegetation, brushing saplings aside and occasionally careening [sic] into small trees. The casque would help protect the skull from such collisions."


  • Stay in Touch, Philip Clark (ed), The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 November 1990. Cites "authorities" for the death claim.
  • Underhill D (1993) Australia's Dangerous Creatures, Reader's Digest, Sydney, New South Wales, ISBN 0-86438-018-6
  • Readers' Digest, June 2006 issue.
cassowary in Bulgarian: Казуар
cassowary in Catalan: Casuari
cassowary in Danish: Kasuarer
cassowary in German: Kasuare
cassowary in Spanish: Casuarius
cassowary in Esperanto: Kazuaro
cassowary in French: Casuariidae
cassowary in Indonesian: Casuarius
cassowary in Italian: Casuarius
cassowary in Korean: 화식조
cassowary in Hebrew: קזואר
cassowary in Dutch: Kasuarissen
cassowary in Norwegian: Kasuarer
cassowary in Portuguese: Casuar
cassowary in Russian: Казуары
cassowary in Slovenian: Kazuar
cassowary in Finnish: Kasuaarit
cassowary in Swedish: Kasuarer
cassowary in Chinese: 鶴鴕
cassowary in Japanese: ヒクイドリ
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