Adult cassowaries have a very distinctive appearance; their large bodies are covered with long, lustrous black feathers, with bright blue skin on their featherless necks, and a dense, bony casque on top of their heads.
Cassowary chicks are born looking somewhat different, with a brown-banded plumage and not even the faintest trace of blue skin.
Read our guide to baby cassowaries to learn more about what they look like, what they eat, and how long it takes for them to gain independence – and the seemingly prehistoric appearance of their parents.
There are three subspecies of cassowary:
Although the three species are distinct and resident in different geographical locations, they share many similar characteristics and habits when it comes to nesting and raising young.
Shortly after hatching, baby cassowaries emerge from the nest site. They are able to walk almost immediately, and have long, pale yellowish-brown legs. Cassowary chicks have reddish-brown heads and chests, and their backs are banded with dark brown stripes from the neck to tail, with narrow stripes on their thighs. Their underparts are pale and unbanded.
They are not born with the helmet-like casque on the tops of their heads, although there is an area of exposed bone where it will later form.
Close up of a young baby cassowary chick
No exact measurements have been recorded for baby cassowaries. Chicks grow rapidly, and by the end of their first year juveniles are the same size as adults – up to 130-170 cm (51-70 in) for a Southern cassowary. Within the first few weeks of life baby cassowaries will have already grown to around half the height of an adult bird’s leg.
No data exists for the weight of baby cassowaries in the wild. However, conservation management records for Southern cassowary chicks born in captivity show a weight of around 500g (18 oz) at birth and 750g (26 oz) by 30 days.
A male Cassowary with his chicks
Between 3 and 6 months, juvenile cassowaries begin to lose their stripes, gaining a more uniform brown appearance. Their feathers begin to grow longer, and they gradually become more similar in looks to an adult cassowary.
From between 6 and 9 months, the exposed skin on the juvenile cassowary’s neck becomes more prominent and starts to take on a blueish color, which then darkens with age. Their head casque is not fully developed until between 4 and 5 years of age.
By the end of their first year, juvenile cassowaries are the same size as adult birds. They gain their full adult plumage by around 4 years. Sexual maturity is reached around 3 years of age, but successful breeding does not usually begin until cassowaries are at least 4 or 5 years old.
Juvenile Southern Cassowary
Baby cassowaries have no specific names and are therefore called chicks.
Baby cassowaries eat fruit pulp, sourced and prepared by the male. Until they are several months old, chicks are unable to eat whole fruits and rely on their father to feed them with mashed food.
Insects also form an important part of a baby cassowary’s early diet, supplying them with valuable protein needed to support their rapid growth.
A young cassowary starting to develop the bright colors on the face
Raising chicks is the sole responsibility of the male cassowary. Female cassowaries leave the nesting site almost as soon as the eggs are laid, leaving incubation and chick-rearing duties exclusively to the males.
Once the chicks have hatched, the male feeds and supports them until they reach 9 months. By this time they are almost fully grown and are driven out of the nesting site by the male to live independently.
All three cassowary subspecies lay greenish elliptical eggs, ranging in color from bright lime green to a rich blue-green shade. The egg surface is often mottled with dark speckles or blotches.
Cassowary eggs measure on average 9 x 14 cm (3.5 x 5.5 in), with only ostrich and emu eggs being greater in size.
Cassowary incubating the eggs
The typical incubation period for cassowary eggs is 50 days, but anything from 47 to 61 days is within the normal range. Incubation of eggs is by the male cassowary alone, with the female leaving the nest site after laying is complete.
Cassowaries usually lay between 3 and 8 eggs. Not all will hatch successfully and it’s most common for a male bird to rear a brood of around 4 chicks.
Young cassowary chick on the ground
Cassowaries lay their eggs most frequently in winter and spring, both in the wild and in captivity.
Southern cassowaries in Australia usually lay their eggs between June and October. In New Guinea, breeding for southern and northern cassowaries takes place from June to November, coinciding with the peak availability of fruit once the dry season has ended.
Dwarf cassowaries have been recorded as breeding all year round, in both wet and dry seasons, whenever conditions are favorable.
Cassowary chicks are unable to eat whole fruit, so rely on the male to separate the flesh from the seed and provide them with manageable-sized pieces. The male will also catch and feed insects to young chicks, to provide them with the protein they need while they are growing.
As young cassowaries become more independent, the male will draw their attention to a food source rather than actively feeding them, to stimulate their own ability to forage. He does this by making a loud clacking sound to indicate that there is food there for the taking.
Two cassowary chicks with their dad
Until around 9 months, cassowaries are cared for by the male, who is fiercely protective over his young chicks. At this time, or at the latest 16 months after hatching, the chicks are deemed independent and ready to leave the nest permanently, and are unceremoniously driven out of their territory by their father ahead of the new breeding season.
For baby cassowaries being raised in captivity without a male bird present, a brooder should be used to regulate the temperature. For the first 7 days, cassowary chicks need to be kept at a temperature of at least 30ºC (86ºF), but by 28 days this can have been gradually lowered to a minimum of 24ºC (75ºF).
Cassowary chick in the forest
Common predators for baby cassowaries include wild dogs and feral pigs in Australia, and pythons, monitor lizards, Papuan eagles, and New Guinea singing dogs in New Guinea.
Feral pigs raid cassowary nests for eggs and young chicks. Hunting dogs owned by humans can also be a threat to young cassowaries in the wild.
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