In the column “Since You Asked” in every issue of BirdWatching, Contributing Editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and bird behavior. Here’s a question from our April 2014 issue:
Which bird is the most dangerous to humans? — Richard Lang, Washington, D.C.
I suppose almost any bird could be a hazard at the wrong place and the wrong time. But if I had to pick, I wouldn’t want to mess with a cassowary.
The three species of cassowary are large, heavy, flightless birds related to Ostriches and Emus and are found in Australia and on neighboring islands. They are generally shy, solitary creatures that reside in deep forests, but they’re willing to defend themselves or their nests by kicking their adversaries with their very strong legs. Cassowaries have three toes on each foot, one of which has a sharp, five-inch claw. I recall a story of a researcher who was held hostage in her car after an angry cassowary had flattened its tires and punctured the radiator. The tale may have been exaggerated, but there’s no doubt a well-placed cassowary kick could easily do serious damage to flesh.
Documented injuries to people by cassowaries are fairly uncommon, in part because of the birds’ well-respected reputations. Sadly, their rarity may play a part; some populations have declined due to habitat loss, hunting, and collisions with vehicles. Sharp claws and lethal kicks are no help against such opponents.
About Julie Craves
Julie is supervisor of avian research at the Rouge River Bird Observatory at the University of Michigan Dearborn and a research associate at the university’s Environmental Interpretive Center. She writes about her research on the blog Net Results, and she maintains the website Coffee & Conservation, a thorough resource on where coffee comes from and its impact on wild birds.