Cassowaries & other Rare Exotics

                   What is a Cassowary?

The brightly colored Cassowary or Cassowaries, is a large rainforest bird of Australia, and Papua New Guinea, belonging to the “Ratite” family. Ratites include the Ostrich, Emu, Rhea, and Kiwi. Of this family of birds, Cassowaries are by far the most beautiful, and unique. They are very different from the other Ratites due to their habits, and physical features. Also, they are very rare in captivity, and very little information is available on the captive breeding of these birds. There are 3 species in this Genus of birds The most common of these are the Double Wattled Cassowaries (casuarius casuarius), also known as the southern Cassowary, which is the most prominent in captivity, and the second in line among size. The largest, and most colorful of the 3, are the Single Wattled Cassowaries (casuarius unappendiculatus), also known as the northern Cassowary. Finally, the last and also the least sized, as its name implies, is the Dwarf Cassowary (casuarius bennetti), also known as the Bennett's Cassowary. Even less is known of the Single Wattles, and Dwarfs than there is of the Double Wattles. There are hardly any of these two species in captivity due to strict export laws of their native country, Papua New Guinea. In regards to their names, the single or double wattles are referring to the number of wattles the species has on the front base of its neck. Wattles are fleshly flaps of skin that hang on a bird’s neck or face. Varying between species, Cassowaries can get up to 6 ft tall, and 200 lbs, making them the second largest bird. They are very prehistoric looking, and skeletons date back 17 million years ago. They are possibly the closest thing alive to a true Dinosaur today, and are even described often as a modern day Velociraptor...though they are "Frugivores", meaning their main diet in the wild is fruit. Unlike the other ratites (except the Kiwi), Cassowaries are solitary birds, and do not live in groups or flocks. Cassowaries breeding season is the only time they come together in the wild. Given this, they are highly territorial by nature. Once they have established their territory, either in the wild, or in their captive enclosures, they will defend it against other Cassowaries, people, or animals. The inner toe of each foot wields a straight spike for a toe nail, which can grow up to 7-8 inches in length with age. Using this claw or spike, they can kick with overwhelming force, and at lighting fast speeds. They attack in the same manner as a fighting game chicken, jumping and slashing or jabbing with both feet. Along with this weapon, they can run up to 40 mph through the forest, and jump 6 ft high with ease. This has earned them the title of the worlds deadliest bird. However, Cassowaries are usually not aggressive, and have to be provoked to attack. Their potential should never be underestimated. When guarding eggs, or chicks, they must be avoided at all costs. Cassowaries are particularly intelligent in comparison to other ratites, and remember well. They also hold grudges. Teasing them is a very bad move, they will turn against you from then on. Besides this one downside to these beautiful birds, they are one of the most breath taking and stunning of all birds, and are a pleasure to keep. I have not had any other species of mammal, reptile, or bird that receives more attention and fascination from people than Cassowaries. Hopefully the interests from Aviculturist will grow, and more will be bred in captivity ensuring its survival, and conservation, as it is rapidly disappearing from the wild, as well as captivity.   

                              Breeding Cassowaries

Being that there isn't much captive experience, or breeding information available about Cassowaries, this page is dedicated to just that. I have been keeping Cassowaries for around 15 years now, and have a good deal of experience and knowledge with them. Cassowaries are for experienced breeders only, and those whom like a good challenge with raising birds. They are easily one of the most difficult species to breed and raise in captivity for a few reasons. Being territorial, most Cassowaries are aggressive towards one another, and would rather fight than mate. If you have a good bonded pair, then they are priceless. Raising a pair up together as chicks is the best way to ensure this. The eggs are very difficult to hatch in a artificial incubator. Humidity and heat conditions must be perfect. After hatching, you have the task of starting the chicks, which is not easy. They are a very difficult species to get started eating and drinking, and it usually takes around a week before they begin and the yolk in their stomach is fully absorbed. If you hatch only one, it is almost impossible, it requires lots of time and attention, and enough pecking with a pen to make your hands go numb. If more than one hatches at a time it makes it much easier to get them started. I have tried everything, even live mealworms, but the best thing is chopped fruits, harder fruits like pears, apples, etc work the best. A young chick of some sort could be put with them to help get them started if you have one. This is actually the easiest and best way besides letting the father Cassowary rear the young. I feed the adults 28 % protein dry dog food, it is better than most of the expensive feeds out there. Cassowaries need more calcium and protein than the other Ratites, and dog food is a good source. I also give them chopped fruit on the side. Most produce stores will just give this to you as they throw it out, for going out of date. My enclosures are 50 ft x 200ft runs for each bird, running side by side. Fencing should be 6 ft high to prevent risks of them ever getting out. Though the only reason they would ever try to jump out is by either fighting, or being cornered. The larger the enclosure, the better your birds will do as far as temperament, and breeding. Cassowaries like lots of room, and trees or shrubs. They absolutely do not like confinement. They need to be in a wooded area, with plenty of shade because they live in forests. Being black, the sun will heat them up quickly, so shade is a must. Also, being tropical birds, they need shelter from winter snow, rain, and ice. They handle the cold fairly well, but still should be provided with adequate shelter from bad weather, especially snow and ice. Their feet are prone to frost bite, and if that happens, they will lose their toes. There is no need to worry about that as long as they aren't walking on snow and ice. A simple 8x8 shelter is what I use, with 4 sides and a door to close them up if needed. The temperature here rarely gets below 20 at night, but in extreme cold climates, they will need to be put inside for winter, or provided heat. They will freely go into their shelters once they have grown accustomed to them, and stand under heat lamps. The best pair of Cassowaries is a pair that has been raised together from chicks. This usually ensures that the pair will be bonded, or favorable among one another. If an older pair is bought, and have never been together, then they must be placed in an enclosure adjacent to one another, and given plenty of time, however long it takes, to become friendly to one another. Taking two strange birds and putting them in the same enclosure will absolutely cause you to end up with dead or injured birds. Even a bonded pair, should be kept separated year round to avoid any risk of injury or possible fighting. Cassowaries are solitary by nature, meaning they aren't meant to live together. Therefore, they are unpredictable towards other Cassowaries, and humans. I have known many individuals that learned this the hard way, and ended up with a dead bird. Once mating season sets in, around march in North America, the pair will usually stay close to one another, and even sleep side by side. You may also catch them doing a mating display. Now is the time to open the dividing gate and let them together. If they have been raised up together, then not much supervision is necessary. The female will lay up to 8 eggs or so if allowed by the male, and he will begin sitting them. Usually the males become broody very quickly, and will begin sitting on just 2 or 3 eggs, making artificial incubation more productive. If the male is allowed to incubate the eggs, then as soon as he begins the process, the female must be locked in the opposite pen away from him. Though they can incubate and raise the chicks on their own...artificial incubation is recommended due to the aggressive nature of the male protecting the eggs or young. The eggs should be incubated at around 97 degrees Fahrenheit, with 50-55%% humidity. Incubation period lasts 54 days. Chicks should be fed plenty of chopped fruit, and high protein dry puppy food. Lack of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus and vitamin D will cause their legs to grow crooked. Chicks become very tame, and will follow their keepers everywhere. Allowing them out to run and exercise everyday is a must for healthy growth and strong legs. Keeping them in a good sized run is best. Taking the eggs from the adults as they lay them will give you more eggs total, but usually only 2 or 3 out of 8 will be fertile for reasons not yet known. In my personal opinion, and watching them, this is due to lack of experience, rather than infertility. Cassowaries are slow to mature, and it takes 3-5 yrs to reach adulthood. It may take even longer for them to become a successful breeder, but usually they have no trouble if they are paired with a good mate that they will get along well with. Once you buy Cassowaries, then you have bought a pet for life, they live 60 + years easily. The temperament depends on the bird. Each bird has a total different personality, I have one pair that I walk in with everyday, and they don't even pay me the slightest attention. While I have another that I try not to go in with  unless absolutely necessary. I keep my enclosures setup to where I can feed and water from the outside, this minimizes having to go in with them, and risk the possibility of injury. Holding a good sturdy stick over their head or a rake will usually keep them away from you. They don't seem to like anything bigger and taller than they are. This is excluded in breeding season however. This pretty much sums the breeding and care part up, I would be happy to answer any questions by email.          


                 Single Wattled and Dwarf Cassowaries

The species most referred to on this site, are the Double Wattled Cassowaries. Being that these are the prominent species in captivity, and the only ones that any type of breeding or experience have come from. However, the breeding requirements should be the same for the other two species as well. Single Wattled & Dwarf Cassowaries are 2 of the rarest species in captivity. To date, most of the Single Wattled and Dwarf Cassowaries in captivity are held in zoos of the Asian and Indonesian regions. There is only 3 known Single Wattled Cassowaries in the United States, and the last dwarf died in 2008. A friend of mine owns the Single Wattled Cassowaries. So far we have not been able to find anymore of this species in North & South America, or Europe (except for Walsrode Bird Park), and have been trying to find a source to import them. These Species all come from Papua New Guinea, which have very strict laws on taking the birds out of their country. We are continuing to investigate ways to get them legally, and trying to find information regarding New Guinea's laws. These two species are the most colorful of the Cassowaries. The Single Wattles have the most colors, and there seems to be two types, or one type possibly being a subspecies...though there are probably more. However, the most common, and most colorful have red necks, and the other species or subspecies has a yellow neck. Single Wattles are a bit larger than the Double Wattles, making them the largest of the 3 species. Besides the physical differences, they also are very different vocally. They make a long drawn out rhythmic bellow, alot like a Donkey. This is the only species that makes this sound. Double Wattles and Single Wattles can cross breed, resulting in a hybrid. This is often done in the wild, and pictures have been taken of birds that are clearly a hybrid. The Dwarf Cassowaries are mountain birds, and live in the high regions of Papua New Guinea. They usually only get around 3-4 ft tall, and not over 100-130 lbs. There are at least 2 subspecies of these. one having colors more like a Double Wattled, but with a white head, and darker deeper red (almost purple) on the back of its neck. The other subspecies has a deep purple-violet neck all the way up to its head, which is black. The back of its neck is hot pink to red. This species is the most fluorescent. Dwarfs have no wattles on the base of their neck, but the second mentioned subspecies has a red or purple spot on the neck, where the wattles should be. There are no known cross breeding between these and the other species. Hopefully in the near future these species can be obtained, and a good breeding program started with them. Otherwise, these species may be doomed to extinction in the coming years unless strict control is put on the hunting of them, and deforestation in their native country. The natives there are allowed to kill, and eat them, and trade them free of will. To be such an amazing beautiful animal to us, they are nothing more than chickens to them.