Meet the Cassowary! …Is that Bird Wearing a Helmet?

An adult male and two young Southern Cassowary...

Image via Wikipedia - Male Cassowary and two chicks

– Scientific Classification –

 

The Cassowary is yet another of my favorite birds (I’ve got a fairly long list now). These large ratites, the second largest and third tallest bird, are native to Australia and New Guinea. They are endangered in Queensland, threatened by habitat fragmentation and loss, vehicle strikes, hunting and other causes. They are a solitary frugivore that only come together during breeding season.

Cassowaries can weigh up to 128 lbs (behind the Ostrich) which adds to the dangers they can pose to humans. Adults have coarse black feathers on the body and a bright blue and red neck with red wattle(s), depending on the species. The wattle may act as a social signal. Their feet are large and even have a dagger-like claw as an inner toe. In combination with their powerful legs, these birds can run up to 30 mph and jump as high as 5 ft. The most fascinating thing about them, in my opinion, in the helmet-like structure on top of their head, called the casque. It is covered in keratinous skin with a firm, spongy core. Many theories of the usage of the crest exist.

  • Maneuvering through dense forest
  • Shovel during foraging (noted in captivity)
  • Indicate dominance and age
  • Secondary sexual characteristic
  • Amplify deep sounds/Acoustic communication/Sound reception
  • Protection (through vegetation/deflect falling fruit)

The following video displays just how dangerous a Cassowary can be:

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Kiwis: Little Footballs with Beaks

The endemic flightless kiwi is a national icon

Image via Wikipedia

(For my friend Steve who wondered when I’d posting about birds.)

So in a previous post, I’m sure I mentioned how much I love Australia. I definitely forgot to add New Zealand. I was lucky enough to travel to both places a few years ago and I have an even greater love of how gorgeous they are. But that’s beside the point. From a biological point of view, the separation of those land masses attributed to their unique flora and fauna. One of my favorite examples of that fascinating fauna is the kiwi.

– Scientific Classification –

There are 5 species of kiwi: Great Spotted, Little Spotted, Okarito Brown, Southern Brown and North Island Brown.

They are the smallest ratite (flightless bird), about the size of a chicken, and do actually have a very small, pretty useless, set of wings. This national symbol of New Zealand is endangered (all species) and threatened by deforestation and invasive mammalian predators. Before the Maori tribe settled in NZ, the kiwi had to predators. Kiwis are more closely related to emus and cassowaries (another cool bird) than the extinct moa as once hypothesized. They are a shy, generally nocturnal bird that can inhabit a variety of habitats. Using their great sense of smell, kiwis use the nostrils at the tip of their beaks to locate underground worms and insects to eat.

Kiwis form lifelong, monogamous pair bonds which can last up to two decades. Unlike many other birds, females have a functioning pair of ovaries (as opposed to just a singular ovary).

One of my favorite things about the kiwi is the ENORMOUS eggs they lay. Labor is intense for birds anyway, but the poor little kiwi seems to have it the worst with the largest egg size to body size ratio (up to 1/4 the weight of the female). If you’re brave enough, have a look:

Side story: In NZ, they had a night-like enclosure with two adorable kiwis inside. While one stood stationary, the other was tearing around the enclosure like crazy. When the rampaging bird got too close to the calmer one, it got pecked at, thrown off track and sent tumbling. It was probably the most adorable bird tumble ever.

Speaking of adorable, here’s a cute video that I found a while back:

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