Monday, November 29, 2010

Southern Cassowary

Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) is one of the very few extant members of ratites which is a group of flightless birds in the order Struthioniformes. The other members are all quite well known including Kiwi, Ostrich and Emu. They are primitive group of birds originated from Godwana and were once a very diverse group. However, as most of them require great home range and vulnerable to human settlement, urban development and persecution, many of them had gone extinct. Unlike Ostrich and Emu, Southern Cassowary inhabits forests which mainly forages on the forest ground for fallen fruits. It occurs in Southern Papua New Guinea and Northeastern Queensland, Australia. Its population in Wet Tropics in Queensland is, however, facing habitat loss which is a major threat to the population. The Australian population is therefore listed as endangered under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Queensland Nature Conservation Act.

This spectacular species is on the top of my target birding list for the Australian trip. However it is a nocturnal or crepuscular species which is somewhat difficult to see during the daytime. Fortunately, with the aid of a ornithologist from CSIRO based in the Wet Tropics, I finally saw a father with three juveniles in a resort at Mission Beach, one day before returning to Hong Kong.

It is interesting to note that the breeding behavior of Southern Cassowary is unlike other birds, where the female birds or both parents are responsible to nurture the chicks. Female bird of Southern Cassowary will leave her partner immediately once after laying the eggs. The male bird will then be responsible for incubating the eggs and looking after the chicks after hatching. Male Southern Cassowary is highly territorial which will patrol its territory and forage with its chicks. The above pictures show a father with three chicks foraging at the backyard of a beach resort. They were quite curious of what we were doing when we met each other. People seeing Cassowary have to bear in mind that they are potentially dangerous to human where there are reports of people being killed by this huge bird.

P.S. Southern Cassowary is listed in the interesting book <100 birds to see before you die>. Three ratites are in the list that the other two are Common Ostrich and Southern Brown Kiwi. This encourages me to dig out pictures of Common Ostrich..