Belying the beauty in the photo above, can you believe someone could be killed by a bird? Have you ever heard of such a thing? What do you know about a bird named Cassowary? This is a tale you may not believe, but it’s well documented.
Cassowaries are big flightless birds, weighing well over 100 pounds and standing 5 to 6-feet tall. They are native to the tropical forests of New Guinea, nearby islands and northeastern Australia. They’re territorial, protective of their space, and since the rain forests are endangered, so is the Cassowary. They are the third tallest and heaviest bird in the world, just smaller than the Ostrich and Emu. They’re shy birds, not wanting to be around people or other animals. They’re actually quite solitary, only being close to their own kind when mating. They keep to themselves if they’re left alone, but will attack someone if they get too close. They have a soft, sponge-like, colorful comb on the top of their heads, called a casque. This consists of a keratin based (the same thing nails and hair consist of) skin over a foam-like material. The purpose of this is not truly understood, but natives to their indigenous areas have said they run through the forests leading with their head. If they run into something they’re not injured, because it acts as a bumper. Others say it’s purpose may be more utilitarian; that it attracts the interest of a female, thereby helping to propagate the species. But that beautiful topnoggin is not what you need to be wary of, it’s the feet you need to beware. In my youth there was one of these big birds in our local zoo and all the signs along the fence warned people not to stick hands or anything else through the fence where the Cassowary roamed. In those days, people obeyed signs instead of defying them.
Here’s the reason you should never tangle with a Cassowary; they come equipped with three-toed feet with sharp claws. But that’s not the worst. This is the worst; the second claw is long (up to 6-inches,) a lethal-looking, sharp dagger. The Cassowary is said to have killed humans and dogs wielding this claw. Their method of protecting themselves is to leap into the air and drive that murderous claw with all their considerable weight behind it, into what they perceive as a threat. During WWII American soldiers in the areas where the Cassowary roamed were warned not to go near it or provoke it. Natives who live in the areas where there are Cassowaries are leery of any contact with the bird, and tell tales of people who have been killed by an attack. None of these are documented and are not considered reliable accounts. However, the one reported in the paragraph below IS a documented case of death by Cassowary.
The Story of Phillip McClean
One particular documented instance is that of 16-year-old Phillip McClean of Queensland, Australia. He and his brother of 13 years, found a Cassowary on their property. They decided to try to kill it by beating it with clubs. The bird kicked the younger boy who fell, and then got up and ran away just as his brother was clubbing the bird. Unfortunately, the older boy tripped and fell to the ground and before he could recover, the Cassowary was upon him, kicking him in the neck with that sharp claw, and the wound opened the boy’s jugular vein, after which he quickly bled to death. So if you ever come across a Cassowary, your best bet is to leave it alone and just walk away before it can find a reason to fight you.
If you’re curious about the Cassowary or other birds, here are a few items you might like.