A cassowary peers through foliage in northeast Queensland, Australia. Females like this one can weigh 160 pounds. No one knows what the casque on her head is for, but it could be a sexual ornament.<br> <br> <a href="http://www.naturphoto.de/">www.naturphoto.de</a>
A cassowary peers through foliage in northeast Queensland, Australia. Females like this one can weigh 160 pounds. No one knows what the casque on her head is for, but it could be a sexual ornament.

www.naturphoto.de

Big Bird

In the far north of Australia the cassowary plays a central role in shaping the rain forest.

On the ground in front of me there’s a large round pile of what looks like moist purple mud. It’s roughly the volume of a baseball cap, and it’s studded with berries and seeds—more than 50. Some of the seeds are larger than an avocado stone.

I kneel down to look more closely. Putting my nose just a couple of inches away, I take a sniff. It smells of fruit mixed with a whiff of vinegar. There’s also a hint of that mouth-puckering, astringent flavor you get from strong black tea. Peculiar. But not unpleasant.

What is it? It’s a bird dropping. A big bird dropping. From a big bird.

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