The Cassowary, the third largest bird in the world, followed by the Ostrich and the Emu, is native to the tropical forests of Papua New Guinea, the Maluku Islands, and northern Queensland, in Australia. They were first brought to Europe in 1597 by the Dutch traders. The name Cassowary is derived from two Papuan words, Kasu and Weri. While kasu stands for horned, weri means head, more specifically their prominent casque. The casque, resembling a helmet, starts to develop on top of their heads at one to two years of age and grows to around 15 cm in length and 17 cm in height.
It is bladelike and brownish, made of sponge-like material, and covered with a thick layer of keratin. Although quite sturdy, it can be squeezed in the middle fairly easily. Apart from protecting the bird’s head while it pushes through the rain forest underbrush, it also prevents any possible injury during fights. Before the onset of a fight, the cassowary makes itself ready by standing as tall as possible, ruffles the feathers, and lowers the head to show off the casque before attacking. Moreover, it is speculated that the hollow inside of the casque, spanned with fine fibres, has an acoustic function, and plays a role in either sound reception or acoustic communication.
The Cassowary is covered in dense, two-quilled black feathers and looks like hair from a distance. Those long, strong, and bare quills hang from the bird's tiny wings. However, it is a flightless bird as its feathers are not designed for flight, but protection in its rain forest habitat. Its feathers keep it dry and safe from the sharp thorns, abundant in many rain forest plants.
The cassowaries do not have the tail-feather, but have feathers that consist of a shaft and lose barbules. The body of the Cassowary, resembling, somewhat like a combination of a turkey and an ostrich, features different colours and textures, from feathers to skin, from their large, black-feathered body to the wattles, or fleshy pouches of skin that hang from the neck and throat, blue in colour with patches of red, and the long grey legs.
Although the cassowary is a flightless bird, it can jump as high as five feet (1.5 m) from the ground and can run at a speed of around 50 km per hour. They are good swimmers too, crossing wide rivers and swimming in the sea. Despite being labeled as the most dangerous bird in the world, they are shy creatures and tend to avoid confrontation. However, they attack to defend its territory and the young. For self-defense, they kick the opponent with their powerful legs. They have three-toed feet with sharp claws, and they use the sharp dagger-like claw of around four inches on the inner toe, which can easily slice open its opponent with a single swift kick. Although they tend to avoid people, they attack people trying to get close, apprehending a possible threat.
The cassowaries are mostly active at dawn and dusk when they search for food and like to take a rest in a spot of the sun during the day. They feed mainly on the fruits of several hundred rain forest plants, but they also take a wide range of other plant food that included shoots, grass seeds, fungi, in addition to small mammals, birds, and fishes.
However, as their digestive tract is relatively short, their droppings contain fruit seeds that are only partially digested.
Cassowaries are solitary birds except during courtship and egg-laying. The mating season is between May or June to October when fruits are most abundant in the rain forest. Courtship and pair-bonding rituals begin with the vibratory sounds of the female when the attracted male approaches and runs with its neck parallel to the ground and making dramatic movements of the head, which accentuate the frontal neck region. The copulation may continue for an extended period, except when another male approaches and chases away the copulating male to climb onto the female to copulate. Females lay three to eight large, bright green or pale green-blue eggs, measuring around 3.5 by 5.5 inches (9 by 14 cm) when the male takes the responsibility to incubate them. The males also raise the chicks for an additional nine-month, trains to forage the young cassowaries with distinctive stripes, which become independent around nine months of age and reach maturity at around three years. The average life span of the cassowaries in the wild is believed to be 45 to 50 years.