Cassowaries are unique and fascinating flightless birds from Australia and Papua New Guinea. There are three species and the Casuarius genus, and the infamous Southern Cassowary (C. casuarius) is the largest and best known. These multicolored ratites are the second heaviest birds in the world, sometimes weighing in at over 160 pounds (73 kg) and standing nearly six feet tall (1.8m).
Cassowaries are generally accepted as the most dangerous birds in the world, but do they really deserve this title? Just how dangerous are they?
Cassowaries are certainly capable of hurting and even killing people under certain circumstances, however, and it has happened more than once. These birds are large, powerful, and extremely fast. They can inflict severe damage by kicking with their large, sharp claws, so it is fair to say that the Cassowary is a dangerous bird.
Cassowaries are usually shy and elusive birds that avoid contact with humans, so people generally have little to fear.
Tame or habituated Cassowaries can be the most dangerous. These birds can become very aggressive when they lose their fear of humans. Wild Cassowaries are most likely to attack when defending themselves or their eggs and chicks. This task falls to the male bird alone, and he is more than up to the job. Bird watchers should always treat these modern-day dinosaurs with the respect they deserve.
Cassowaries are usually shy and elusive birds that avoid contact with humans, so people generally have little to fear
Fortunately, Cassowaries often give fair warning before they attack, including grunting and rumbling calls, lowering the neck and head, and raising their feathers. The best way to avoid an attack is to give these birds the space they deserve and never attempt to feed or harass them.
It’s always possible to be caught off guard, however, so it’s worth knowing how to handle yourself if you do ever come face to face with an aggressive Cassowary.
In this article, we’ll break down the facts about Cassowary attacks. Read along to learn about the warning signs and what to do if you are under attack.
Close up of the head of a Southern Cassowary
Cassowaries are capable of remarkable speed and agility, which is all the more impressive considering the dense and tangled nature of their natural habitat. These birds will flee from danger, although they are also well equipped to defend themselves with powerful kicks and sharp claws.
Close inspection of the Cassowary’s large, three-toed foot reveals a sharp claw on the end of each digit. The inner claw is unique - these dagger-like nails are straighter and measure four inches (10 cm) or more in length!
Continue reading to learn when a Cassowary is most likely to use these dangerous weapons.
Close up of the powerful leg and claw of a Cassowary
Cassowaries become most aggressive when they are fed by humans. These birds can become dangerous and aggressive when they lose their natural fear of us. Cassowaries will also attack for more noble reasons, like when defending themselves or their chicks.
Cassowaries do not usually attack for no reason. A 1999 study on Cassowary attacks in Northern Australia found that most attacks came from birds seeking a free meal from people. They also attack to defend a food source or to protect themselves and their young.
Cassowaries are large and powerful birds
Cassowaries are wild animals that should not be thought of as friendly. These birds are large and potentially dangerous animals that can be particularly aggressive when they become comfortable around humans. Even 'pet' Cassowaries will attack their owners, sometimes with fatal consequences.
Cassowaries are usually shy and non-aggressive towards humans. As we encroach more and more into their threatened forest home, the birds are increasingly forced into human contact, a situation that is not improved by feeding and taming these potentially dangerous animals.
Cassowaries can be aggressive towards humans and other animals like dogs. Attacks and other unpleasant encounters happen every year in Northern Australia, although life-threatening injuries are rare.
Close up of the head of a Southern Cassowary
Cassowaries are solitary and territorial birds that usually do not tolerate trespassers very well. They are pretty unlikely to show aggression towards a different bird species, although a father would certainly protect his young from a bird of prey.
Aggression and fights between Cassowaries are common, however. These birds fight by kicking each other with their sharp claws and roaring loudly.
Cassowaries stretch out their long necks and bow their heads before a fight. They also fluff out their feathers to make themselves appear as large as possible while making a series of loud, roaring, and grunting calls.
Cassowaries could become aggressive when begging for food or if you approach their eggs or chicks too closely. Back away if you notice any aggressive behaviors from a Cassowary- these birds can be dangerous.
Front-facing portrait of a Cassowary
Cassowaries are surprisingly fast, and you have almost no chance of escaping if one of these birds is determined to reach you. If you are near the safety of a building, vehicle, or scaleable fence, you can attempt to retreat.
In most cases, however, you will need to face the threat head-on and prepare for the worst.
Immediately call for help if you are chased by a Cassowary and use anything at your disposal to protect your abdomen, neck, and face. A backpack or any other large object could save you from serious injury. Stay calm and focused while slowly backing away from the bird. Do not go to the ground because this is where the most severe injuries occur.
Cassowaries can run at jaw-dropping speeds of up to 31 miles per hour (50km/h) and jump nearly seven feet (2m) into the air! They navigate the dense undergrowth of the jungle by holding their long necks forward with their heads down. These birds are also comfortable in the water and can swim over a mile (1.6km) through the open ocean to reach islands.
Cassowaries can reach impressive sprint speeds of over 30mph (50km/h)
Cassowaries are unlikely to fight to the death unless they are held captive, and there is no chance of escape. These birds fight for territorial reasons, so simply retreating is usually enough to end the conflict.
Adult Cassowaries have few natural enemies, although their eggs and chicks are vulnerable to many reptilian and mammalian predators. Humans and our destruction of their rainforest habitat are certainly their worst threats.
Male Cassowaries show little fear when protecting their eggs or chicks, although they certainly treat the females with caution. Female Cassowaries are much larger than males, and these dominant females usually get their way!
Young Southern Cassowary
Cassowaries can bite, although their bite is not considered dangerous. They also peck and sometimes even headbutt their victim with the large casque on top of their head.
Cassowaries certainly have killed human beings. Tragically, a captive specimen killed a 75-year-old man from Florida in 2019. This case shocked the world when it made the headlines and further cemented the Cassowarys’ title as the world’s most dangerous bird.
The only known case involving a wild bird was the sad death of a teenage boy in 1926. Apparently, the young man was kicked in the neck while trying to protect his dog.
There are no reliable measurements of the Cassowary’s kicking power. These birds are large and have powerful legs that can propel them at speeds of over 30 miles per hour (50km/h), so there is no shortage of power there. What’s more dangerous than the impact force is the large sharp claws these birds have on each of their toes.
Few documented Cassowary attacks have resulted in serious injury or death. Two fatal attacks are known, although there are probably many more undocumented historical cases.
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