Cassowary Corner

To: birding-aus <>
Subject: Cassowary Corner
From: Phil Gregory <>
Date: Wed, 23 Jan 2002 13:20:55 +1000
Cassowary Corner

Things have been very active along Black Mountain Road, Kuranda, far north Queensland with the resident Cassowaries over the past few months. The male Dad who has his territory based around Cassowary House disappeared for July and most of August 2001, then reappeared with 3 tiny stripey chicks in late August. He was very shy about bringing them in initially, and we did not see him for a couple of weeks until September 10 when he began to bring the chicks on a daily basis. They tend to come early morning, and often reappear late afternoon, spending the hot part of the day- and this season it has been up to 7 degrees C above normal- sat in the shade of our veranda or in the bushes nearby.

The chicks often nestle right up to the father, hiding their heads under his filamentous tail bustle. When they peep out it can look like a two headed bird, like something straight out of Dr Dolittle! The huge female Missy has been an occasional visitor throughout, usually about once a week she just comes through. We suspect she may be the mother of the chicks as we saw her and dad mating on our front lawn once. The group sometimes meet up with her, and they do tolerate each others presence, though two years ago another female stayed with the family the whole time and indeed took over the group for some weeks when Dad wandered off after a cyclone.

The chicks are by now up to waist height and have lost their mint humbug stripes. They have a plaintive ?peeep peep peeep? type call which is used as a general contact and keep in touch vocalization, but they also have a variation of this when one gets separated and lost from the group. This is a querulous and emphatic rising whistled ?PEEEEEEEP?, long drawn out and far carrying, and it brings the male rushing back to see what is the problem. When they are about to move off the male gives deep sonorous booming calls several times, and when he is agitated he has almost a barking  gruff series of notes.

The chicks should remain with Dad for about 11 months, then he will abruptly lose interest and abandon them. They may hang forlornly around for a few days, but eventually he comes and chases them off and they then have the difficult and dangerous task of finding their own territory. We actually witnessed him abandon the single chick he raised in 2000- this one was hatched just after cyclone Steve in late February, and stayed with him until Jan 30 2001 when he simply walked off and left the well grown chick peeping frantically under our veranda.  Steve as we called him stayed for about 3 days, then another small adult male appeared and duly drove him off to an unknown fate.

The Kuranda area of far north Queensland is a key zone for the endangered Cassowary, the birds around Cassowary House have raised 7 chicks since June 1998, with another male a couple of kilometres along the same road having a similar record and currently having 4 chicks.  In January 2002 we had a new female appear, and occasionally join with the family group, though the regular female soon drives her away when they coincide here.  The individual birds are readily recognisable by their casque shapes and patterns, with males having a drooping bustle and females being considerably larger and having a more pear shaped rear end.

Major threats here include uncontrolled dogs wandering in the state forest, feral pigs destroying the nests, and above all else road traffic. Our dirt road has a 40 km/h speed limit, which is often ignored, and requests for traffic calming bumps have met with disinterest from Mareeba Shire Council, a notoriously unsympathetic one where the environment is concerned. One official from the Queensland State Forests Dept actually told us that we couldn?t have speed bumps because people drive too fast- go figure, I think it?s all to do with the dreaded liability issue.

The Kuranda area is undoubtedly once of the best places to see the charismatic birds, easily as good as the well-known Mission Beach where the traffic issue is a similar problem. They had 4 birds killed on their roads in 2001, whilst we lost one late in 2000 to a road gravel lorry, with another hit and not accounted for. It is clearly time to raise the profile for this bird, which could be the flagship charismatic megafauna species for a major ecotourism and conservation initiative. Sadly, the Cassowary Conservation Liaison Officer appointed when the species was declared endangered in late 2000 was only a temporary appointment, funded for a few months to tie in with the new conservation status, but then abandoned.

To be continued????.

Phil Gregory   Cassowary House Kuranda, Quuensland

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