Cassowary up-date

To: birding-aus <>
Subject: Cassowary up-date
From: Phil Gregory <>
Date: Thu, 03 Jul 2003 15:24:29 +1000
 Kuranda FNQ
News from Cassowary House at Kuranda in Far North Queensland is that the 3 Cassowary chicks which were abandoned by the parent on May 28 are still around. This is very unusual, as normally the male becomes very aggressive and drives them off within a fortnight or so. He seems preoccupied with the big female whom we call Missy, they come through together most days. He will chase the chicks off if he sees them, but they seem to be able to segregate the times so that they seldom coincide.
The chicks have split into a two and a single, though they will come together and then fight over any fruits, with the two ganging up on the one. They have a distinctive loud coughing hissing call they make when fighting., which I have so far failed to record.
We are not sure if this segregation into two and one is a sex related difference, they seem a bit young as yet to sex with confidence, though the drooping bustles do suggest they may be all be males. They are just beginning to get a bit of pale bluish on the top of the head, and are darkening off on the back, but at just 10 months old it's too early for much colouration as yet.
One curious behaviour we saw in late May was a submission posture when the female was close by. A single chick was sat on the ground, and as she neared, it lowered itself down until just the upper neck was raised. As she nuzzled at its back, it lowered the head completely so that it was flat on the ground, and remained stretched out like this for a couple of minutes until the female lost interest and moved away. The chick was motionless once stretched out, and made no sound, whilst the female gently nuzzled and pecked at it. It seems that by doing this the baby was able to short circuit any aggression from the adult. Sue saw two chicks do the same with the d female in mid-May and I was very pleased to observe it for myself, yet another curious behaviour from this great bird.

We currently have the two adults and 3 chicks coming daily, with just after dawn the best time for the chicks, 0630 on, though the adults may come at any time. We expect the male to disappear soon for this year's breeding attempt, and it will be interesting to see what happens with the chicks. We hope that one may hang around, but the area clearly can't support such numbers and they will have to disperse quite soon.

Victoria's Riflebirds are very tame at the moment, with males raiding the breakfast table after butter or cheese, and the Red-necked Crake continues to wander about. Lesser Sooty Owl is vocal at night now too. A new addition to my local list last week was Torresian Crow flying over, whilst White Pygmy-Geese are on the Barron River at Kuranda again.

On a more sombre note, Mareeba shire Council currently has a planning application to excise a chunk of wet tropics rain forest to make a new link road to Black Mt Road for the Community of Russet Park near Kuranda, which gets cut off during times of cyclone when the causeway floods. The fact that Black Mt Road also gets cut off and blocked by fallen trees is considered irrelevant, the proposed new road is some $300,000.00 cheaper than the obvious move which is to raise the causeway. This assumes of course that you put zero value on the forest habitat which is disturbed, and the extra vehicle traffic that it will  generate through a core Cassowary breeding area. We have lodged objections with the Wet Tropics Management Authority, which has to approve this project, plus the council and the two local MP's. We'd like to see the causeway raised, if this access thing is really such a big deal, rather than degradation of a core habitat of an endangered species. Watch this space.
Happy birding
Phil Gregory
Cassowary House, Kuranda www.
Please reply direct to me if you wish, we are not presently on birding-aus

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