The Southern Cassowary is a large flightless bird and is the largest native vertebrate in Australian rainforests. Adults can stand up to 2 m tall, with males weighing up to 55 kg and females up to 76 kg (Westcott & Reid 2002). Adults have draping, shiny black plumage with naked blue skin on the neck and head and long red wattles. A tall bony helmet, or casque, forms on the heads of maturing birds and continues to grow with age. Their legs are heavy, and terminate with three toes, the inside of which bears a large dagger-shaped claw. Newly hatched chicks are striped dark brown and creamy white. After three to six months their stripes fade and the plumage changes to brown. As the young mature the plumage darkens, the wattles and casque develop and the skin colour on the neck and wattles brightens (Latch 2007).
The Southern Cassowary is territorial and solitary, with contact between mature individuals generally only tolerated during mating (Latch 2007). Females appear to be dominant in social interactions (Crome & Bentrupperbäumer 1991). Adults are the most abundant age class in all studied populations of the Southern Cassowary, followed by independent sub-adults and chicks. This reflects the longevity of birds and the low recruitment rate amongst Southern Cassowary populations (Buosi & Burnett 2006). There appear to be similar numbers of adult males and females in each of the areas where this information has been collected (Bentrupperbäumer 1998; Buosi & Burnett 2006).
In the Wet Tropics, the Southern Cassowary occurs between Cooktown and Townsville, being distributed throughout the coastal, hinterland and tableland areas south to the Bluewater Range (north of Townsville). Although widely distributed in this area, it occurs patchily at both the local and regional scale.
The distribution of the species is constrained by the availability of habitat which can provide a year-round supply of fleshy fruits and access to permanent freshwater for drinking and bathing (Buosi & Burnett 2006).
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