Cassowary in the Daintree Rainforest

Cassowary in the Daintree Rainforest

Written by: Cameron Ward

Published: 03/26/2015

Reading time: 5 mins

Cassowary may be one of the most unique and interesting birds found in Australia. These flightless big birds live in Queensland, and are on the verge of becoming endangered.

If you find yourself in the rainforest and able to see one of these incredible birds, watch out. Adult Cassowaries can be up to 1.8 metres tall! The Southern Cassowary is in the same bird family as the emu, ostrich, and the neighbouring Kiwi in New Zealand.

The cassowary are considered the guardians of the rainforest. They disperse certain seeds throughout the forest, keeping over 150 types of plants and trees alive! These amazing birds can live up to 30 and even 40 years old, living in solitude majority of their life. The only time they come together is during mating season.

Cassowaries are sadly becoming rare. Both the Commonwealth and Queensland governments recognise this bird as endangered. Scientists estimate that there might be only 1,200 – 1,500 of these birds in Australia.

Why are cassowaries endangered?

The cassowary’s numbers have dwindled for a number of reasons.

Deforestation is a major factor. The Daintree Rainforest was heavily logged up until 1987: this destroyed much of the cassowary’s habitat. The cassowary is a territorial bird, and most birds that lost their territory when it was destroyed were unsuccessful in establishing a new one.

Not only was the amount of habitat reduced, however, but it was also fragmented into isolated pockets. Cassowaries then had to cross open fields, exposing them to predators. Logging brought with it roads and vehicles, leading many birds to be run over as they crossed the road.

Introduced species have also wreaked havoc for the cassowary. Dogs hunting in packs have killed many of the birds, pursuing them until they are exhausted, and then ravaging them. Feral pigs pose a different challenge, by competing with the birds for the same food sources.

Why does this matter?

First of all, cassowaries are spectacular animals. Their size alone makes them an impressive sight: with females weighing in at an average of 59 kilograms, these are some truly massive birds. The adults have a very remarkable bright red and blue plumage on their necks, with a distinctive “helmet” on top. The name “cassowary” itself comes from a Papuan phrase meaning “horned head”. Their behaviour is also fascinating: they are often heard before they’re seen, making a loud, low rumbling sound to advertise their presence. But even more importantly, the cassowary is a “keystone species” – many other species in the fascinating Daintree Rainforest ecosystem depend on this bird.

The cassowary is one of nature’s gardeners: it eats the fruit of many trees and other plants, distributing their seeds through the rainforest. The bird’s digestive tract is very gentle on the seeds, and will hold the seeds for approximately ten hours, ensuring that the seeds are planted some distance from the parent plant with a fresh pile of manure to act as a fertiliser. Some of these tree seeds are so large that no other animal can swallow them. This makes these plant species completely dependent on the cassowary for their survival – it is estimated that some 70-100 species of plants depend either entirely or mostly on the cassowary to spread their seed. The animals that in turn depend on these plants and the ecosystem they create are thus also dependent on the cassowary.

It’s no exaggeration to say that without the cassowary, the Daintree Rainforest could not exist in the way that we know it.

Seeing a cassowary in the wild

You can find the Cassowary birds in the Daintree Rainforest in the far north tropical region of Queensland. These shy birds stay away from humans unless they feel threatened. Male Cassowaries can be quite aggressive cassowary-attack-2 towards outside visitors, especially when they are protecting their eggs. That’s right! The male bird takes care of the female’s eggs after she gives birth. They sit on the eggs for 50 days until they hatch. It is then the male’s responsibility to train the young chicks how to hunt and eat for themselves for about nine months. After nine months, the little guys are on their own.

The Daintree is a popular tourist and local destination, with hiking trails into the dense forest, and out to incredible coastal views. Many venture out to this rainforest in hopes to have a glimpse of a Cassowary. The most unique characteristic of these birds are their physical attributes. They may be big like an ostrich, but they are much more distinct looking. They have a black-haired round body with long legs, and a beautiful multicoloured neck made of deep blue, purple, and red. On top of their head is a big crest. They use it to dig and pus through bush to find food. These birds feed on mainly fruit, but will eat earthworms and other living creatures on the ground.

If you come face to face with one of these birds, be careful. They are unpredictable when threatened, and can potentially cause serious injury with their razor sharp claws. Back away and admire from a distance. Do not feed cassowaries.

Cameron Ward
Cameron Ward
Managing Director at Sightseeing Tours Australia

Cameron Ward turned his travel passion into a thriving Australian tourism business. Before he co-founded his own business, Sightseeing Tours Australia, he was enjoying being a Melbourne tour guide. Even now, Cameron delights in helping visitors from all around the world get the most out of their incredible Australian trip. You’ll see Cameron leading tours or writing about his favourite Australian places where he shares his local insights.