Cassowary calls

Subject: Cassowary calls
From: Phil Gregory <>
Date: Tue, 4 Oct 2011 16:31:06 +1000
Our resident male Cassowary has not been seen since Sept 25 and we think he has finally gone off to nest, after a couple of months of sporadic mating with the female and one short absence, which might have been a failed nest attempt during the peak of the cold weather. Just before he went, on Sept 21, Sue witnessed an unusual activity from the big female "Missy"-

She sat down and gave a very long continuous deep throbbing call, something like a minute in duration, which we believe is a mating call, not the usual contact note. It is so deep as to be felt as much as it is heard, and is presumably what i perhaps mistakenly used to call ultrasound but is now seemingly infrasound, the same as deep sea vocalizations of whales that can travel huge distances, a useful attribute in the dense forests we have here. The male appeared about a half hour later and successful mating occurred, even being caught on video by some of our guests- the teenage boys were quite impressed, their mum less so! This might have been coincidence, but it is striking that this odd vocalization was given beforehand.

Today the female was here alone, and gave 3 quite short but very deep thrumming notes, with head lowered to below breast height, sort of bowing down, and plumage really fluffed out. This was not in response to any obvious external stimuli, she was quite relaxed, she just gave this call which is unusual for her. The call was similar to that which the male gives when he wants to gather up the chicks and move on, he gives usually 3 and sometimes just 2 deep vibrating notes, slightly higher pitched than those of the female, each note perhaps a second or so long and interspersed by a couple of seconds. This 'moving on' call is only given in that situation where the birds are about to move, so you seldom hear it and I have lamentably still to tape it as i always contrive to miss it, though our Japanese TV crew did get it on film earlier this year when I was doing my David Attenborough bit.

It is interesting to note that there is a difference in the calls of the sexes. Whether or not the keratinous but internally honeycombed casque serves as a kind of amplifier remains to be determined, I would not be at all surprised.

These deep toned vibrating notes are very different to the much lighter toned and non-vibrating "whoomp" alarm of brush-turkeys, which some folks think is the Cassowary call. The only comparable note I can think of is with Eurasian and Australasian Bittern, where that deep song note is right at the limits of my hearing these days and presumably has a similar long-distance travel function.

Phil & Sue Gregory



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