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Flightless Birds

Cassowaries

The three species of cassowaries (Casuarius) are found only on the island of New Guinea and the nearby portion of Australia. They are about the same height as a rhea and weigh about 185 lb (84 kg). However, all resemblance ends there. The southern, or Australian, cassowary (C. casuarius) has a vivid blue, featherless head rising from a red-orange neck. Flaps of flesh, called wattles, hang from the neck, as on a male turkey. The wattles can be almost red, green, blue, purple, or even yellow. The body is covered by a thick coat of shiny, black feathers. Bennett's cassowary (C. bennetti) is considerably smaller and lacks the wattles. The female cassowary is larger than the male. This is the only large flightless bird that lives in forests instead of on open plains.

On top of a cassowary's head, stretching down over the base of the beak, is a bony protuberance called a casque, which means "helmet." A cassowary thrusts its casque out in front of it when it runs through the forest. Its unusual wing feathers also help it move through the forest. The cassowary's wings are almost nonexistent, but from them grow several quills that lack barbs. These bare quills stretch out beyond the other feathers on each side and serve to help push obstructions aside. Cassowaries eat mainly fruit that has fallen from trees, along with leaves and some insects.

Cassowaries live alone instead of in flocks and are nocturnal. A male and a single female come together only at mating time, when the female lays three to eight dark green eggs. The male incubates the eggs and then takes care of the young. The young cassowaries are striped from head to tail, even more vividly than the emu young.


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