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John Bois writes:

>I don't know if anyone saw the Discovery (I think) episode where the
>an Australian ranger makes the mistake of climbing into a
>cassowary's pen.  The bird made a murderous lunge at him causing him to
>cry, as he dove over the fence: "You're a very naughty bird!"

While working in northern Australia in 1973, I visited a man who fed wild
cassowaries in his back yard.  I was attempting to photograph a chick when
the male came up behind me and began a deep threatening thrum in his chest.
 I assure you I beat a hasty retreat - I can think of no more ignominious
fate than to be kicked to death by a bird.
>And how strange that so few birds--only the cassowary?--have
>both the means (vicious claw) and the nature (vicious temperament) to pose
>a serious threat to Man.  

An ostrich or an emu, though they lack the "killer claw", can be very
dangerous - people have certainly been killed by ostriches.  And I wouldn't
mess with a Great Horned Owl, for that matter - it is quite capable of
causing you a considerable amount of pain and suffering.  Even a swan can
break a bone with a well-aimed blow using the clublike swelling on its wing.

Any hypotheses for that?  I have one, of course.
>It is the biggest bird to nest in a forest.  As such it depends upon
>cryptic coloring. 

There is nothing cryptic about a cassowary.  All three species have
brightly-coloured facial and neck skin (in fact they are the most colourful
of all the ratites) and I can tell you from personal experience that they
stick out like a sore thumb.  Their behaviour may at times be cryptic, but
their colouring certainly is not.

 However, because forests support high predator density
>such nests are prone to discovery.  In Australia this is not so
>bad because a significant proportion of would-be nest predators can be
>easily bested.  But "naughty birds" don't seem to do well elsewhere.

Remember that we really have no idea what the conditions were,
predator-wise, under which cassowaries evolved because of the extinction of
many of Australia's predators, including Thylacoleo-type marsupials,
terrestrial crocodiles, giant pythons and oversize monitor lizards.  And
just because a bird is incapable of killing a human being does not mean
that it cannot fight off the types of animals who do raid its nests.

Ronald I. Orenstein                           Phone: (905) 820-7886
International Wildlife Coalition              Fax/Modem: (905) 569-0116
1825 Shady Creek Court                 
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada L5L 3W2          mailto:ornstn@home.com