Etty Bay – The best place to see Cassowary in the wild

Etty Bay – The best place to see a Cassowary in the wild . All you need to know about finding the amazing Cassowaries of Etty Bay, Queensland.

What is a Cassowary?

The Cassowary belongs to a group of large flightless birds known as Ratites, which also includes Ostrich, Emu, Rhea and Kiwi. The Cassowary consists of 3 living species (Southern, Northern and Dwarf). However only the Southern Cassowary is found in Australia. It is both the largest and most common of the three species. The Northern and Dwarf Cassowary are found in small sections of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, as our Southern Cassowary.

Known for their size, only the Ostrich and the Emu are taller in the bird world, with only the Ostritch outweighing the Southern Cassowary. Other than their size they are also instantly recognisable with their bright blue heads, purple necks, red wattles and their distinctive casque (helmets).

Southern Cassowary casque

Where to find Southern Cassowary in Australia?

The Southern Cassowary can only be found in Tropical North Queensland. Populations are readily found in the Wet Tropics areas like the Daintree Rainforest, Barron Falls National Park, Mission Beach, Atherton Tablelands and Kuranda as well as being found right up north in the Cape York Peninsula. But it is Etty Bay that has earned a reputation as the easiest place to see Cassowary in the wild. And in our experience, a title rightly held.

Southern Cassowary distribution map
Australian Southern Cassowary distribution map from Oakvale Wildlife Park

Where is Etty Bay?

So where is Etty Bay I hear you ask? Etty Bay is a coastal town on Queensland’s Cassowary Coast. Located close to Innisfail, it’s just south of Moresby National Park at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef.

Aerial views over Etty Bay

A favourite with locals, the beachfront campsite here is often booked out months in advance, with the same families visiting multiple times throughout the year and returning year after year. As well as holidaymakers, the beautiful beach area is popular with school groups and day trippers.

Sunset colours on Etty Bay

Our experiences with the Cassowaries of Etty Bay

These are wild creatures, so there’s no guarantees, but here are 3 different locations where a Southern Cassowary can be regularly spotted in and around Etty Bay:

1. On the road in and out of the beach

When driving down Etty Bay Road, keep your eyes peeled. There’s large yellow roadside signs letting you know you’re in Cassowary territory, so you’ll know when to be on alert! Not only is this a reminder to keep your camera handy, but more importantly to drive cautiously.

A Cassowary crossing Etty Bay Road
‘Why did the Cassowary cross the road?…..To get to the other side!’

On our various journeys along Etty Bay Road we have been spoiled with multiple Cassowary sightings! From our first ever drive into Etty Bay where we saw one wandering in the distance in a roadside field to a recent drive in, when we saw 2 different Cassowaries just casually strolling along separate stretches of the road. On another occasion, one was literally snoozing right on the side of the road!

A Cassowary sleeping on Etty Bay Road

2. In the Etty Bay Caravan Park

For those of you staying at Etty Bay Caravan Park which we highly recommend, Cassowaries are very regular visitors to the campground. It’s not uncommon to be sitting around the campsite and for one to suddenly materialise from behind a caravan. And unsurprisingly, they usually cause a bit of commotion.

A Cassowary in Etty Bay Caravan Park

It was certainly a surreal experience to be lying in our swag as a pair of massive feet suddenly waddled by! And you have to remember not to leave any food out as these inquisitive birds will happily gobble it up for you. Which is NOT good for you or them!

Guest at Etty Bay Caravan Park

3. On the beach

But for us, the most magical place to see and photograph a Cassowary was on the beach, which we have been lucky enough to experience on several occasions. Every time we saw one it was awesome, but it’s particularly special in the early morning light.

Cassowary walking down Etty Bay Beach

There was no real rhyme or reason to the timings of their visits or the routes they took. Foraging for food, sometimes it was just a fleeting visit. Other times it was full up and down strolls along the length of the beach.

What else might you find down at Etty Bay?

Ok, we know you came for the Cassowaries! But there is more wildlife to see at Etty Bay if you look carefully. Pretty Metallic Starlings, Rainbow Bee-eaters, Kookaburra and Sunbirds are common sights here. Keep your eyes peeled for White-bellied Sea Eagles which often soar high above too. And for those you camping here, little Northern Brown Bandicoot scuttle around after dark.

A Northern Brown Bandicoot in the camp site.

Our Summary

On each occasion we’ve been to Etty Bay we’ve seen at least two different Cassowaries! I think that says it all. So if you’re wanting to see one of these beautiful big birds then look no further and get yourself down to Etty Bay.

Safety around Cassowary

Despite an often over exaggerated reputation as some sort of ferocious Velociraptor-like creature with razor sharp talons, the Cassowary is actually a very shy bird that prefers to remain hidden out of sight. While they do possess a somewhat fierce armoury, these birds are far from confrontational. They generally retreat into the forest were they can seemingly disappear into their surroundings long before we are aware of them.

That said, these big birds are unpredictable wild creatures and need to be treated with respect! Despite their apparent habituation here at Etty Bay, any Cassowary interaction is potentially dangerous as they can become aggressive if provoked. But by following some simple guidelines you can both avoid unnecessary risks and help protect the beautiful cassowaries. So when you’re in Cassowary territory ‘Be cass-O-wary‘.

  • Never approach cassowaries
  • Never approach chicks—male cassowaries will defend them
  • Never feed cassowaries—it is illegal, dangerous and has caused cassowary deaths*
  • Never stop your vehicle to look at cassowaries on the road
  • Always slow down when driving in cassowary territory
  • Always keep dogs behind fences or on a leash
  • Always discard food scraps in closed bins

* For a really interesting and informative piece on why it is so important NOT TO FEED cassowaries, check out this Department of Environment and Science (DES) Media Release.

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