We burn all our paper by-products in a pit in the back yard.
So I’m standing there. Beside the fire with a lighter in my hand just about to light the paper, when I see out of the corner of my eye a black figure standing beside me. No noise, no sound, not even any crumpling of bushes or dry leaves. No warning, none whatsoever. Just a feeling.
I look up.
My blood runs cold.
The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
I’m face to face with a stretched up 2 meter cassowary in my back yard, considered to be the most dangerous bird in the world. He has 2 chicks in toe.
Male cassowaries rear their young, protecting them and teaching them what to eat and what not to. The male cassowary can loose up to two thirds of his body weight when sitting on eggs that the female has laid in a basic nest, if you could call it that.
The male creates a shallow ditch in the rainforest floor with his 3 pronged feet. There are huge claws on each toe that can disembowel a wallaby; or a human, the male cassowary, scratches and scraps around until he is satisfied with his position he has chosen to hibernate on 3 to 6 dark green eggs for a couple of months.
Last year, same time, Elvis would come to our house for fruit. He supplements his diet with a visit. He is very territorial with a keen ear for dogs, cats, lawn mowers and domestic violence, he tends to shy away from those places. He likes our property with no fences to get tangled in and bananas, yes, bananas, as if from heaven …. every once in a while.
Elvis is a native cassowary that lives on fruits and seeds and lives by the river in Far North Queensland.
Even though I have caught him drinking from the frog pond on occasion, and he doesn’t mind a hose down on a hot day, he is still a wild bird. A big one, with claws. The inside claw on both of his three pronged feet are what can do the damage. They are scary long, dangerous, frightening, a hideous weapon.
Cassowaries are named to help with identification and with as little as 1200 left in the wild in Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea, it’s vitally important to be able to identify the birds so we can help them survive.
Elvis was named after Elvis Presley, the King of Rock so naturally his consort is Pricilla. I think we should name his two chicks this year Lisa and Marie. Only one chick is female and one is male. Marie can be Mario and Mario looks like a mini Elvis, so cute with its pips and squeals of excitement.
Last year Elvis brought Pricilla up along the river bank a few times to visit. She’s a bigger, wider bird than he. She wasn’t very impressed as she hasn’t been back for some reason that I don’t understand. There are still many things to discover about cassowaries.
No one knows exactly how old Elvis is. Cassowaries have been known to live up to 65 years of age. One thing we do know about Elvis is he is a magnificent male in his prime years. He is an excellent father and a well tempered bird. He batters his eye lids and opens his beak as if to talk when he greets me. He sneezes and grunts, a very low deep growl from the gut.
He ran up the driveway once. Little useless wings flapping, shiny black feathers ruffled, ground thumping as he chased off a supposed foe. He’s such a show off! He strutted back with pride, he had accomplished his mission.
The flightless birds have good memories and are related to emus.
Elvis first appeared at our house 4 years ago.
There was a chick that wandered through the back yard, beside the river about ten years previously and I had often wondered if we would ever see an adult as there are cassowaries often sighted further up the river.
I was watering my garden at that time in my underwear when I felt a presence beside me. I turned my sight on a huge, fully grown, shiny black cassowary. I froze in fear. It stood beside me like it knew me and like we were best friends. Hardly, silently I dropped the hose, turned my back on the beast and quickly strut to the front door, hoping and praying it would not knock me down before I reached the safety of the house. I didn’t look to find out.
Feeling relieved, from the safety of my elevated veranda, I peered over the balustrade to see where or what the bird was doing. I’m sure he was hot on my heels. But to my surprise, he had hardly moved. Merely turned around to watch me in bewilderment. He blinked at me like an adoring cat, then started pacing under the veranda.
Cassowaries are known to jump as high as 2 meters and when I ran to the kitchen to scramble for a banana or a piece of fruit for the bird, I had a horrid thought that he might jump up on to the veranda!
I’ve seen a cassowary get into my neighbours kitchen and jump up on the benches while the occupants barricaded themselves in the adjoining room to watch the unpreventable carnage through a crack in the door. The kitchen looked like a bunch of drunk pirates had been in there. The cassowary had its fun smashing jars open to consume the contents, scoffing a bowl if fruit consisting of a whole bunch of bananas, a large paw paw, several exotic fruits such as star fruit and rambutan. The avocados were swallowed whole and he actually jumped up on to the bench to view the top cupboards, scrambling and slipping and making a hell of a racket as he did so. Luckily he couldn’t get the fridge open. That would have been a nightmare.
Leaving what couldn’t be managed he slid all over the kitchen floor. The cassowary eventually left the way it had entered but that’s not until it was satisfied it had totally trashed the kitchen with nothing more to be scavenged.
Cassowaries can consume a lot of food.
Mainly fruit but also bugs, fungi, some rotting flesh they may come across on the forest floor. They have found rocks in the gut of cassowaries during postmortems. They pick up and swallow pebbles to help crush food in the stomach which aids digestion. I have seen them eat seeds out of their own droppings. Totally gross, I agree.
Elvis jumps for a banana. I didn’t teach him this but he lines the banana up shifting from eye to eye, crouches then jumps, snatches it out of my fingers and lands with a thud. It’s awesome, it’s trust, he knows he’s safe here. He doesn’t live in my territory, I live in his.
Many years ago I helped rear a couple of cassowary chicks until they they fought, kicking each other, making a hell of a racket and then fled to find their own territory. They say that cassowaries have a good memory. Could Elvis be one of those chicks? It is possible he really did know and remember me that day he walked up to me in the garden?
The horn on the top of the cassowary’s head was thought to be a ram to get through thick, spiky forest. Now we know that it helps regulate their temperature. Along with the wattles and foot prints which leave unique honeycomb patterns along with other individual markings that help to identify or recognise an individual bird.
After four years I now water in the mornings. I hang washing or do gardening at that time as well. I avoid going out in my underwear. I don’t want to be in the shed when he turns up. I would be cut off from the house until he left, if he knew I was in the shed, I dought he would leave me until I gave him some fruit. So my chances of a direct encounter have to be considered as to what time of the day, what month Elvis might rock up and who he might bring with him. Living with a famous cassowary family is certainly for the brave.