Cassowary Spotting – North Queensland’s Obsession with Weird Dinosaur Birds

So,  what is a cassowary?

These flightless birds weigh around 60kg, measure up to 2 meters tall, run at a speed of 5km/h and are known for their bright blue neck, and floppy red throat wattles.

Cassowaries tend to be shy, but are known for their ability to inflict some serious injuries, sometimes fatal, when provoked. Despite being fruit-munching omnivores, their bodies are equipped with powerful weapons. One example is the dagger-like claw on the second toe, which is used for powerful kick attacks.
They also sport a hollow crest on top of their head, which may have some roots back to prehistoric dinosaurs. Junchang Lü, an author from the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, pointed out in a study of physical similarities between dinosaur species and cassowaries found that the crest was a multi-purpose tool for protection, and as a form of communication and expression of reproductive fitness.

what is a cassowary
Sadly, there's only roughly 4,000 of this endangered species left, due to encroachment of their natural jungle habitat and run-ins with humans. In a study by Kofron and Chapman (2006), they found that out of 140 cassowary mortalities, motor vehicle strikes accounted for 55%, and dog attacks 18%. Hand-feeding cassowaries is also a huge threat to their existence since it creates a reliance on humans in suburban areas to provide food. Queenslanders use the phrase, "A fed bird is a dead bird".

The animal has become somewhat of a mascot to the local community, especially in Mission Beach. Signs are posted everywhere reminding people to slow down and be cassowary-aware. The land's traditional owners, the Djiru people, consider the animal as divine and serving great importance. Along with being aware of these birds, it's important to have a healthy dose of caution when dealing with them. There have been numerous attacks against humans, mostly provoked.

what is a cassowary
Okay, now that you know what you're looking for,


Where can you spot one?
Despite being notoriously hard to spot, there are a few places you'll have better luck. Remember to be patient, and move slowly and quietly. Indications of their presence include oversized footprints (with three toes), and fresh cassowary poo, dotted with bright red quandong berries.


Here are a few places to try:


Etty Bay - 1.5 hours south of Cairns 
Get here early morning or late afternoon.


Mission Beach, 2 hours south of Cairns
This town is the hub for cassowaries, with around 100 wild ones roaming the jungle. You might be lucky enough to spot one while trekking through the rainforest, but there's a number of known local spots for sightings.

The Dreaming Trail, El Arish Mission Beach Road 
This path encounters a few streams while meandering in the lush rainforest.

Mitre 10, Corner of Dewer Street
Lime green building - known for cassowary crossings

The South Mission Beach Transfer Station
The only reason a backpacker would go to the local dump.

Beachcomber Coconut Holiday Park
Campers have caught the birds on video strolling the beach during the early morning

Garner's Beach
Nice beach for swimming, regardless if you spot a cassowary or not.

what is a cassowary

Here's a copy of local Mission Beach artist Liz Gallie's tips for cassowary safety:

  1. Slow down. The biggest threat to cassowaries is cars, so please heed the slow down town mentality and enjoy the surroundings.
  2. If you spot a cassowary while driving, don’t stop abruptly or you too could become a statistic.
  3. Early morning is the best time to see a cassowary. Grab a coffee, some mosquito repellent, a chair, find a place of big nature or a walking track and wait quietly.
  4. Find a quiet spot near a water source – cassowaries love to access water.
  5. Don’t look for the red or blue of the neck; the bright colours disappear in the rainforest. Scan the bush for the black mass or listen for the sound of twigs snapping as these heavy birds trek through the forest.
  6. Don’t feed them. It’s not only illegal, you will build an expectation of food (and maybe a karate kick). Worse, human food can cause cassowaries to die.
  7. Never approach chicks – no matter how cute they are – they have angry-bird papas.
  8. Visit during the mating season in June or through to December when the small stripey chicks hang with their dads.
  9. Check out the Mission Beach Cassowaries Facebook page where the locals share their latest sightings.
what is a cassowary