Cassowary House is the regular haunt of Dad and Missy, two endangered Cassowaries. Nestled in the rainforest on Black Mountain Road near Kuranda in Queensland, it offers a rare chance to see these beautiful birds up close in their natural environment.
Cassowaries are flightless birds with only a few quills where their wings used to be. The body feathers are black and no feathers grow on the head and neck. Brilliant colours of blues, purples, orange and fuchsia on their drooping wattles stand out in the rainforest. Amber eyes are shaded with thick black eyelashes and a helmet-like structure known as the casque sits on the head.
Females weigh up to 60 kilograms and males 40 kilograms. This makes them Australia’s largest bird. Huge legs and feet support their body, and dagger-sharp claws are used solely for defense. Cassowaries are solitary and only tolerate the company of others for brief periods during the breeding season, which is usually June to October.
Dad builds a simple nest on the rainforest floor, and once the female lays the eggs, he incubates and cares for them for about 56 days until they hatch. He takes sole care of the chicks and is aggressively protective.
Dad and his Chicks
For the past 30 years, Dad regularly visits the guesthouse because it’s in his territory. During our stay, he brings his three blue-eyed chicks in every day. He is wary at first, but soon he accepts us and ignores us. We use caution and never get between him and his chicks. The inquisitive chicks come close to us, so close we can touch them. I look at Dad when they come near, to make sure he is not upset. But it’s OK as long as it’s the chicks that do the approaching.
Dad is watchful of everything that goes on. The chicks only have to show a little distress and he rushes to them. They follow him around looking adoringly at him, chirping happily as they forage around the undergrowth for worms and insects. They love the forest berries and fruits that Dad picks with his beak and then places on the ground for them.
It is an endearing sight to see four cassowary bums as they all peek into the windows of the rooms at Cassowary House. The little chicks stand on tiptoe with their necks stretched so they can get a good look at what Dad’s looking at. They are real sticky beaks. Sue, the owner of Cassowary House, tells us they will often hang around longer if there are guests. They seem to enjoy the company.
After foraging and inspecting the place, Dad will settle down to let the chicks sleep. Dad sleeps very lightly, turning his head in the direction of every sound in the rainforest. There is an independent chick that always wanders further than the others. A favourite chick gets to sleep closest to Dad using his feathers as a blanket.
After a couple of hours, Dad decides there is nothing exciting going on, so he gathers the chicks together, and they abruptly leave, disappearing into the rainforest without a trace.
The three-month-old chicks will soon lose their stripes, go all brown and gradually darken and get the adult plumage at about three years old. The chicks stay with Dad for nine to eleven months until he drives them away when the breeding cycle starts all over again. When the female returns to breed, the chicks must go. The frightened chicks make a “Weeeeee” cry when they have to go out on their own. They are sad and do not want to leave Dad.
The chicks have to find their own territory, and unless a grown cassowary dies, there is no rainforest territory spare. The rainforest around Kuranda is taken up with approximately 21 adult cassowaries. These chicks will more than likely not make maturity and will die before gaining a territory of their own. They have only a 10% chance of survival when they leave Dad.
As few as 1400 cassowaries remain in Australia. The rainforest in the Kuranda district has the highest population. The biggest threat to cassowaries is habitat destruction. Cassowaries are crucial for the preservation of rainforest diversity due to their role as seed dispersers. Rainforest plant species rely on the cassowary to disperse and germinate the seed. We should act now so this magnificent bird has a secure future.
Cassowary House is a unique place, with not only an opportunity to see the cassowaries but many other birds. Catbirds, Flycatchers, Honeyeaters and Riflebirds are a few of the many birds in the area. There is also a chance to see the Musky Rat Kangaroo and the Black Striped Possum at the right time of the year.
Sue and Phil have a vast knowledge of the birds and wildlife in the area and they arrange tailor-made tours for bird and wildlife watching.
Cassowary House is a 5-minute drive or a 30-minute walk from the mountain village of Kuranda.
Kuranda is 25 kilometres north-west of Cairns in Far North Queensland. Surrounded by world heritage rainforest, there are many nature-based activities, including the Skyrail rainforest cableway. The main attraction is the famous Kuranda Markets and there is also a variety of cafes, coffee shops and restaurants.
We stay in the self-contained Catbird cottage which is private and tucked away in the rainforest and great value at $125 ($160 with breakfast) Australia Dollars/Night.
Twin and single rooms including a tropical breakfast $90- $160 Australia Dollars/Night.
If you stay in these rooms, you may be lucky enough to find the cassowaries looking into your window!
Email Sue: email@example.com
Cassowary Spotting Tips
Cassowaries are unique to North Queensland and not found anywhere else in Australia.
Other places to see them are Girrigun National Park, Mission Beach, Etty Bay and the Daintree. There is a good chance to see them at Licuala Lodge in Mission Beach.
Early morning and late afternoon are the best time to spot them. The middle of the day they rest in the cool of the rainforest.
Keep a safe distance and never approach them or their chicks as they are very protective.
May to November is the breeding season, with the majority of chicks hatching in summer.