Family: Cassowaries (Casuaridae)
Habitat: tropical woods of the north of Meganesia.
North of Australia, New Guinea and islands of Indonesia were few places at Earth where sites of the rainforest were kept during the ice age. Some of rainforest inhabitants could go through epoch of climatic changes and had occupied rainforests widely spreaded in tropical areas after the ice age. Among them there were not only small creatures like warblers and insects, but also rather large vertebrates. One of the largest inhabitants of Meganesian rainforests in early Neocene was the dwarf cassowary (Casuarius benetti). This bird had survived in epoch of people chasing due to secrecy of habit of life. But in human era the area of this species had been fragmented, and different populations had developed different features of behavior. After human extinction birds had settled again within the borders of former area, but distinctions in behavior reliably isolated different populations even in common habitats, and it had become an incitement to speciation.
One of descendants of the cassowary is yagil, rather large bird, up to 170 cm height, weighting up to 80 kg (female is smaller than male). Yagil had kept a characteristic for cassowaries constitution: moderately long neck and legs. But it became less bright, than its ancestor was: the feathering similar to wool is colored olive tone, on shoulders a little bit darkest, than on sides and back. In coloring of the bird there are no “excesses”: “lobes” and outgrowths, characteristic for cassowaries, at yagil are not present, and naked skin on head and neck is ash-grey. Only under beak of males there is brightly-yellow spot. Corneous “helmet” on head is small – it looks as small outgrowth sticking up back. Beak of bird is high, slightly bent down on the tip.
Soft coloring may be clarified simply enough: this bird is a predator, the active hunter killing various large ground animals. The bird chases prey, imperceptibly creeping to it hiding in thickets. And as soon as the distance between predator and prey will be enough shorten, the yagil sharply rushes from shelter on catch. Its killing instrument is long, powerful and sharp claw on internal toe. The bird rips up belly or side of prey by it, and then jumps aside, dumping preyed animal on side by strong push of the body. This bird is named after the hero of one myth of New Guinea used cassowary leg instead of the weapon. If the victim had survived after such furious attack, the predatory cassowary will chase it up to exhaustion. But the bird will not spend superfluous efforts, and it simply will walk follow the prey, waiting while that will expire with blood.
When the animal is killed, the yagil cleans and tears it apart to pieces by strong beak. The bird usually eats only soft tissues of large catch, and on the rests of carcass there is some meat for various scavengers. Except for large animals the yagil eats small creatures: lizards, rodents and insects.
This predator had kept many features of behavior of cassowary: yagil is the solitary predator zealously protecting extensive fodder territory. In case of excitation the yagil involves head in shoulders, fluffs feathers on back and straightens the rests of wings - the needle-shaped feathers which have turned into horn spikes even at its ancestor. This bird utters voice seldom, only sometimes it hisses during conflicts with congeners.
The courtship season at yagils lasts the year round. The female ready to pairing comes itself into the territory of the male. In the beginning she is cautious, and keeps at some distance from the male. Then, when he gets used to her presence, the female starts “close acquaintance”: she leaves to the male right after how he preys a large animal and is saturated so, that looses interest to catch. At this time he is less aggressive, and the female can involve him any more as probable meal: occasionally yagil males attack careless females. When contact is established, pair in common chooses nesting place, and arranges the nest: birds simply dig small hole without any litter. In clutch it is up to 10 eggs having bluish-green shell, they are hatched by the male during 45 days. For this time he strongly grows thin, as is compelled to eat casual catch, down to small invertebrates. Constant pair at yagils is not formed, and right after egg laying the female is expelled from territory of the male.
Young yagils differ in colouring from adults: these birds are spotty, black with white spots merging to longitudinal lines. Right after hatching they have “fighting” claw, and they try to attack insects and small vertebrates. Gradually birds shed feathers, and their colouring becomes one-color, as at adults. Sexual maturity at yagil comes at the age of about 3 years, at females earlier, than at males.
This species of birds had been discovered by Simon, the forum member.
Original drawing by Tim Morris