Cassowary – A Strange Bird

Cassowary – A Strange Bird

When we think of birds, we usually picture songbirds, chickens, pigeons, eagles, and others. However, we are also aware of less familiar birds such as penguins, ostriches, and kiwis. Imagine a bird that stands up to six feet (1.8 m) tall, weighs 130 pounds (59 kg), has spine-like quills in place of feathers, and has a four to five-inch (12.5 cm) claw on its inner toe that it can use to stab and even kill a dog or a human. This creature can run 30 miles (50 km) per hour and jump more than five feet (1.5 m) in the air. The name of this bird is the cassowary.

These birds, native to New Guinea, Indonesia, and Australia, can kick, stab, head butt, and peck. Cassowaries are a factor in the discussion of whether the dinosaurs were birds or reptiles. The wings of most modern birds are for flying, or in some cases, for swimming underwater. Instead of feathers, cassowary wings are tipped with large quills resembling porcupine quills without the barbs. Some dinosaur fossils give evidence of feathers, but we don’t know their function. However, cassowaries demonstrate that wing-like and feather-like structures can have other functions.

The cassowary can teach us many lessons. One is that taxonomy gives us only a limited view of various animals. Another is that birds have more than one role in ecological applications. Cassowaries play an essential role in the ecosystem where they live. They are omnivores, eating fruits as well as small animals. They lay eggs in a nest on the ground and incubate the eggs. The males are the primary caregivers during incubation, and they care for the young after the eggs hatch. We tend to view flightless birds as vulnerable creatures that live only where there are no predators to threaten them. Cassowaries show us that is not always true. They can defend themselves and live for 40 to 50 years.

The biblical view of birds includes only birds that could fly. The Hebrew word commonly used for “bird” in the Old Testament is “tsippor,” meaning a small bird, such as a sparrow. (For example, see Genesis 7:14 and 15:10, and Ezekiel 39:4.) The Hebrew word “oph” refers to a flying bird. (For example, see Genesis 40:17-19, 2 Samuel 21:10, Ecclesiastes 10:20, and Hosea 9:11). “Ayit” refers to a hawk or bird of prey. (See Isaiah 46:11 and Jeremiah 12:9.) In the New Testament, the Greek word “peteinon,” meaning flying or winged bird, is used in Matthew 8:20 and 13:32, Luke 9:58, Romans 1:23, and James 3:7.

The Cassowary does not fit any of those passages, considering that people in the world of both Moses and Jesus did not have contact with flightless birds. Instead, we can view the cassowary as a part of God’s creation to fill a very different kind of ecological niche. However, its role in creation’s design and the world today remains a subject of future study.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: World Wildlife magazine for the summer of 2021 page 6, Encyclopedia Britannica online 9/2/21/, and Wikipedia.