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Northern Cassowary

Casuarius unappendiculatus

The Northern Cassowary, also known as the Single-wattled Cassowary or Golden-necked Cassowary, is a robust, flightless bird native to the northern regions of New Guinea. It is one of three extant species of cassowary, distinguished by its black plumage, blue facial skin, and a prominent casque atop its head. The bird's neck and wattle exhibit vivid hues of red or yellow, and it possesses formidable feet with a long, dagger-like claw on the inner toe. Sexual dimorphism is present, with the female being the larger sex, averaging 58 kg (128 lb), and the male weighing between 30 to 37 kg (66 to 82 lb). This species is the fourth heaviest living bird, with a body length of 149 cm (4 ft 10+1⁄2 in) and a height ranging from 1.5 to 1.8 m (4 ft 11 in – 5 ft 11 in).

Identification Tips

When identifying the Northern Cassowary, look for a bird with a shorter bill compared to the Southern Cassowary, measuring 12 to 13.7 cm (4.7 to 5.4 in), but with a slightly longer tarsal length of 28 to 33.2 cm (11.0 to 13.1 in). The single wattle and the golden or reddish hue on the neck are key features distinguishing it from other cassowary species.

Habitat

This species inhabits coastal swamps and lowland rainforests, preferring areas below 490 m (1,610 ft) in elevation. It is endemic to northern New Guinea and can also be found on the nearby islands of Yapen, Batanta, and Salawati.

Distribution

The Northern Cassowary is distributed across northern Papua New Guinea and the islands of Yapen, Batanta, Salawati, and Waigeo. Its range is estimated at 186,000 km² (72,000 sq mi).

Behaviour

The Northern Cassowary is a solitary and elusive bird. Its diet primarily consists of berries, fruits, and small animals such as rodents, amphibians, reptiles, smaller birds, insects, and snails. It is also known to consume carrion and feces, which may contain undigested fruits. Vocalizations include grunting and hissing sounds. During the breeding season, females lay three to five green eggs in nests prepared by males, then leave to find another mate. The male takes on the responsibility of incubating the eggs and raising the chicks for approximately nine months.

Breeding

The breeding behavior of the Northern Cassowary involves the female laying a clutch of three to five eggs in a well-camouflaged nest. After laying, the female departs, and the male assumes the role of incubating the eggs and caring for the offspring.

Conservation Status

As of 2017, the Northern Cassowary is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, with population estimates suggesting larger numbers than previously thought. However, it remains the most threatened of the cassowary species due to habitat loss and overhunting. The estimated population ranges from 2,500 to 10,000 individuals, with a declining trend noted across its range. Hunting poses the greatest threat, exacerbated by forest logging that facilitates access to previously remote areas.

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More Cassowaries, Emu

A photo of a Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius)

Southern Cassowary

Casuarius casuarius
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