Where in the Zoo?~The Cassowary’s Casque
The new March/April issue of Zoogoer is finally online, and there are all sorts of goodies inside—Peter Winkler’s awesome Tai Shan timeline, Valerie May’s riveting peek into the animal transport world, and a Where in the Zoo? on the double-wattled Cassowary by me!
Check out the National Zoo’s web site for the story or just read it here:
The Cassowary’s Casque
What is this bird, and what is that thing sticking from its head? Meet the double-wattled cassowary.
By Caroline Treadway
Among the many striking features of the double-wattled cassowary (Casuarius casuarius), one literally stands out the most. That’s the casque, the horny growth atop the bird’s head. The casque serves many purposes for the large, flightless bird, native to northeastern Australia and Papua New Guinea.
The second-largest bird (after the ostrich), the cassowary uses its headdress to navigate dense rainforests, pushing aside vines and foliage to forage for fruits and seeds that have fallen to the ground. Scientists have also observed cassowaries using their casques to dig for food, which can include the occasional fungus, insect, or small vertebrate.
According to Zoo biologist Sara Hallager, this horny protuberance may even aid communication between birds by picking up low-frequency sounds in the forest. The casque grows throughout the bird’s life (20-40 years in captivity) and could possibly indicate age and dominance.
Come visit the Bird House to marvel at the Zoo’s two female cassowaries and their fascinating features. Fewer than 1,500 of these birds remain in northeastern Australia.
—Photojournalist and writer Caroline Treadway is a former Smithsonian Zoogoer intern.
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Smithsonian Zoogoer 39(1) 2010. Copyright 2010 Friends of the National Zoo. All rights reserved.