Wednesday, December 1, 2010

In Fine Company

I have spent the past two weeks in the company of what the Guinness Book of World Records has listed as the "Most Dangerous Bird in the World." Poppycock. Yes, they have massive and powerful feet, tipped with dagger-like claws - but for cassowaries, as for most animals, violence is a last option. I have found them attentive parents, gentle companions and for the most part entirely unaggressive. This does not mean I don't have to be careful, however, especially with young chicks present. The male Cassowary has all the responsibility for the chicks from egg to fledging, and he doesn't like people messing with them.  In this image, however, he's not threatening to eat me; on the contrary he was giving a big yawn....before  promptly falling asleep...
So what's with the horn?  The "casque" as it's called, is something both sexes have, so it is not a male-only appendage used for fighting (in fact, his mate's casque is bigger than his!).  Instead, it may be employed to bash fruiting trees to drop their fruit, or to more easily navigate the dense forest understory that is so common here.
I can personally testify to how difficult that can be : I have tried many times to follow wild cassowaries through the forest, and typically get only a few yards before I'm stopped by a multitude of spines, and a particularly cruel vine palm with fronds like razorwire.  No wonder, the Cassowary has a thick coast of coarse feathers - it's as tough as chain mail.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm lens

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