Cassowaries and Riflebirds

young Southern Cassowary, by Steve Bond

The cassowary mating season is in full swing and we can hear a lot of  booming in the forest. The large female, “Wattle” and her mate, “Goldfinger” have been seen together several times. Another 2 cassowaries have also turned up: “Dad” with one chick is visiting us almost daily, often they are enjoying this sunny spot between cabin and house:

Southern Cassowary male and chick, enjoying the winter sun

Dad is apprehensive in the presence of the female and takes off when she approaches. She doesn’t seem to be really aggressive towards him and is very nonchalant towards the chick. It could well be her own, as Dad and Wattle were together last June, when he came through with 2 chicks (who were about 3 months older than this year’s single survivor).

Yesterday, Dad tried another tactic to evade the female: he crouched down in the densest patch of shrubs, lying as low as possible. Of course, she knew he was there, especially with that chatty chick nearby, and slowly walked towards him. When she got within a few metres of his ‘hiding’place, he lost his nerve and ran.

“M”, the young male or female bird, has drawn the short straw, being chased vigorously by Wattle and very afraid of Dad. This beautiful image was taken by one of our guests, Steve Bond:

young Southern Cassowary, by Steve Bond
young Southern Cassowary, by Steve Bond

 

Our Victoria’s Riflebirds don’t seem to know that they are supposed to take a break from all that displaying business. The adult male and one immature male, who changed into adult plumage last summer, kept going throughout  the molting season and are displaying daily on the favourite post near the cabin whenever a female comes into view.

Here are a couple of Steve Bond’s images:

mature male Victoria's Riflebird, displaying, by Steve Bond

mature male Victoria's Riflebird, displaying, by Steve Bond

We haven’t noticed any offspring this year, so maybe the adverse conditions (a long, very dry 2018, with very little flowering/fruit-setting taking place) didn’t get the female riflebirds into mating and nesting mood.

 

Cassowary mating season 2019

cassowaries female & Mr March

For some time, a young, male cassowary (we call him “Mr March”, because he first visited us in March 2018) has been around several times a week. Judging by his droppings, he is finding rainforest fruits, as well as eating fungi and berries from several sclerophyll shrubs.

He is chasing the other young bird, who occasionally shows up (“Goldfinger”) away, whenever it came too close.

Following up on our last post about the difference of the two, here is another feature: you can see quite clearly.  “Goldfinger” has a ‘hairy’ fringe around its (we are not sure, yet, whether it is a male or female -*see postcript below) crest:

cassowaries Mr March & Goldfinger

Now the tables have turned: A large female made her appearance, and she always gives chase when she sees or hears ‘Mr March’. It is quite a funny sight, when a cassowary gallops down the track with wildly swinging bottom! But you do not want to get between the two running birds!

The female is easy to identify, as she has very distinctive wattles (so we named her “Wattle”) and also a tall casque with a ragged top:

cassowary female
cassowary female

cassowary female, portrait

Here is a comparison of “Mr March” and “Wattle”:

cassowaries female & Mr March

Despite her aggressive behaviour, the male keeps coming back, which makes us think it is the start of the mating season. In that case, the female’s aggression should slowly wane, and the male will become less frightened.

Below a sample of her booming, and you can see her whole body vibrating.  You can hear as much as feel the sound when you are close. It is like an elephant’s rumble! Cassowaries call at the lowest frequenzy of any bird, as low as 24-30 Herz (infrasound). This booming call carries a long distance – perfect for communication in dense rainforest.

The casque on the head, which is spongy inside, might function as an amplifier as well as a receiver of the bird’s infrasound vocalisations. Latest research by scientists from La Trobe University suggests that it s main function is thermoregulation.

Postscript:

Today, June 1st, we watched ‘Wattle’ and ‘Goldfinger’ mating. She sat down next to a Rose Gum, and he shuffled up from behind. It was a quick affair (‘Dad’ and ‘Missy’ in Kuranda always took their time!). Goldfinger definitely is a male!                                                                                                                                                                                               Maybe ‘Mr March’ is a “Miss March’! Time will tell.

A Tale of Two Cassowaries

Southern Cassowary

Last March a new juvenile cassowary appeared in our forest. Judging by the size of his casque and wattles and the fact that there were still some brown feathers visible on the back, we tentatively assumed it was a 3 year old male. He had unusually long, light-coloured “fingernails”: the quills sticking out from the rudimentary wings.

Distinguishing features of cassowaries are mainly the casque, which might be straight, leaning to one side or the other, big or small (although in a young bird it would most likely keep growing for a few years), and the wattles, which can be short, long, one longer than the other, or oddly shaped.

Southern Cassowary
Southern Cassowary

He came past our house and the cabin quite regularly, and when we noticed, that he didn’t have his long, golden quills anymore, but shorter, black ones, we assumed that he lost them while moulting.

 

Southern Cassowary
Mr March

To our surprise, he recently showed up with his quills as long and golden as before! Shortly thereafter, they were black and short again! TWO birds! Same size, very similar casques and wattles, but very different quills!

Southern Cassowary
Goldfinger
Southern Cassowary
Mr March
Southern Cassowary
Goldfinger
Southern Cassowary
Mr March

So, when trying to identify individual cassowaries, have a close look at their fingernail as well!