Southern Cassowary – dangerous ancient bird

Cassowary walking next to our trailer

The Southern Cassowary is a large, flightless bird that is native to the tropical rainforests of northeastern Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.


In Queensland, Cassowaries can be found in the Wet Tropics region, which includes areas around Cairns, the Daintree Rainforest, and the Atherton Tablelands. They are also found in other areas of North Queensland, such as the Cassowary Coast region and Hinchinbrook Island.

In New South Wales, Cassowaries are only found in the far north of the state, primarily in the border region with Queensland around the town of Lismore and the nearby Nightcap National Park. However, their numbers in New South Wales are very low compared to Queensland, and sightings are rare.

They typically inhabit dense forests, swamps, and mangroves, but can also be found in agricultural and suburban areas. Southern Cassowaries are considered one of the largest birds in the world and are known for their distinctive appearance, which includes a tall, colorful casque on their head, a bright blue neck, and dark feathers.

Females are usually slightly larger than males.

Young cassowaries are normally brown with duller head and neck colours.

They are also important seed dispersers and play a crucial role in maintaining the health of their habitat.

Cassowaries help in growing the rainforest

Cassowaries are frugivores which means fruit eaters. While eating they swallow fruits and during the digestive process, various undigested seeds and berries are released through their defecation.

This allows the seeds to grow into plants. Considering cassowaries move from place to place, they simply help to regrow the rainforest.

This makes them the natural gardeners of the rainforest.

Southern Cassowary breeding

During the breeding season, between June and October, the female selects a male and then lays a clutch of up to four green eggs.

Once the eggs are laid the male is fully in charge of the incubation and parenting duties for chicks.

When you are on the walk-in Daintree rainforest you may spot a cassowary. If it is during the breeding season, there is a possibility it is a male with chicks, so be very careful and stay at a safe distance.

Are cassowaries dangerous

Cassowaries are considered the most dangerous birds in the world. They can be very threatening and deadly when approached.

It is due to their size, strength and ancient ancestry that makes this bird one you should avoid contact with. Especially they can be aggressive in breeding season when defending their chicks.

When threatened, cassowary will attack with a powerful kick, jabbing with their claws or swiping downwards in a slashing motion. They can also jump in the air with their claws extended straight out.

There are reported cases when cassowaries killed humans so it does happen and it is important to know how to react when cassowary sees you.

How to react when cassowary sees you

It is advisable to stay at a clear distance to not disturb the bird, especially when spotted in its natural, rainforest habitat.

When cassowary is approached too close, it will stand its ground and stretch itself as tall as possible. It will shake its feathers and do a loud hiss trying to scare the intruder.

Cassowaries have dangerous claws, and when attacking they will use them fiercely.

When you spot a cassowary in a rainforest, and the bird sees you, the best way is to retreat your steps slowly and definitely don’t run.

Southern Cassowary

Cassowary will not attack without a reason. They are quite shy creatures, and would rather not be confronted. However, they are territorial and very defensive of their young.

Statistics says that there are over 200 cassowary attacks every year. Most of the attacks are due to people inappropriate behaviour like getting too close to the bird and trying to feed them. So, definitely don’t feed it and stay at a safe distance.

How do Southern Cassowaries communicate

Southern Cassowaries communicate with each other using a variety of sounds and behaviors. They are known for their deep booming calls, which can be heard up to a kilometer away, and are used by males to attract females during breeding season. They also make hissing, grunting, and rumbling sounds to communicate with each other.

In addition to vocalisations, Southern Cassowaries also use visual displays to communicate. They can raise their casque (a bony crest on their head) or display their neck feathers as a way of showing aggression or asserting dominance.

Southern Cassowaries are typically solitary birds, but during breeding season, males may form temporary pairs with females to mate and raise chicks. They are also known for their defensive behavior, and will use their powerful legs and sharp claws to defend themselves and their offspring from potential threats.

Australian cassowary interesting stories

Wild cassowaries are very inquisitive birds. It often happens they walk out from the rainforest and roam around campgrounds, playgrounds or beaches.

Cassowary seeking for food around picnic tables

During our trip around Australia, we stayed in Innisfail and one day we drove to Etty Beach to have a good time. 

This is where we spotted wild cassowary walking on the beach and seeking some adventure around picnic tables.

I really admire the man in the picture who is casually reading the magazine not even reacting to the bird.

Inquisitive southern cassowary looking to steal something from the man
Inquisitive cassowary looking to steal something from the man

Southern Cassowary entering our campsite

When we camped at Lync Haven Caravan Park cassowary entered our campsite in the morning. I was sitting with Nell inside the trailer and Kasha when to the bathroom. 

On her way back she got a surprise – read the full story here.

Southern cassowary entering our campsite
Cassowary entering our campsite

Southern Cassowary enters someone’s home

This happened in Wongaling Beach when a cassowary, known to the nearby residents as ‘Peanut’ entered a house while the homeowners were inside.

In northern Australia, people leave doors and windows open as it is very hot up there, but you would not expect that, especially if you are inside.

You can read the full story here.

Cassowary Lifespan

Southern Cassowaries live approximately 30 years in the wild and between 18 to 50 in captivity.

Best places to see Southern Cassowaries

The two places it is almost guaranteed to spot a cassowary is Mission Beach and Daintree National Park (biggest population). It is also possible to see them in the eastern part of the Cape York Peninsula, especially around Iron Range National Park.

How can we protect Cassowaries and their habitats?

Protecting Southern Cassowaries and their habitats requires a level of involvement – both conservation efforts and community engagement. Here are some ways that we can help protect Southern Cassowaries:

  • Habitat conservation: Southern Cassowaries require intact rainforest habitats to survive. Protecting these habitats from deforestation and development is crucial to their long-term survival.
  • Wildlife corridors: Creating and maintaining wildlife corridors that connect different patches of forest can help ensure that Cassowary populations remain connected and genetically diverse.
  • Road safety: Road collisions are a major threat to Southern Cassowaries, as they often need to cross roads to move between forest patches. Erecting warning signs, reducing speed limits, and building wildlife crossings can help reduce the number of road collisions.
  • Responsible ecotourism: Ecotourism can provide economic benefits to local communities while also raising awareness about the importance of protecting Cassowary habitats. However, it’s important that ecotourism activities are conducted in a responsible manner that doesn’t disturb or harm the birds.
  • Education: Educating local communities, visitors, and tourists about the importance of Southern Cassowary and their habitats can help raise awareness and encourage people to take actions to protect them.

Southern Cassowary – more information

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