Science

Do You Want to Buy a Murder Bird?

The cassowary that killed its owner is for sale, along with the rest of its flock. Here’s our advice for purchasing one.

A cassowary walks across a leafy area.
One dangerous bird.
Goh Chai Hin/AFP Contributor/Getty Images

A flock of cassowaries—birds the size of human beings with talons like a velociraptor’s—will be available via auction in Florida this Saturday. These birds need a new home because one of them killed their owner when he fell between their cages on April 12. Reporting on the impending murder-bird sale for the New York Times, Liam Stack writes that authorities “expressed almost universal surprise at both their presence in the county and their role in a local death.” The birds are typically found in Australia and Southeast Asia, but their now-deceased owner kept a flock of them on his property, along with about 100 other exotic animals, under an agricultural permit.

It is unclear who, exactly, might be in the market for a cassowary. But if you want to be a pet parent to one of these birds, here is some advice:

1. Stay away from their feet. Their talons can be more than 4 inches long, and the birds can kick even when knocked out with drugs, according to a guide to captive cassowary management.

2. Also stay away from their wings. Cassowaries can’t fly; their wings are rather short and stubby for their size, and more fat than muscle. But each one does have a claw.

3. Actually, just avoid all parts of the bird. “They may also peck, barge or head-butt,” writes paleontologist Darren Naish in Scientific American. Their heads feature a large horn thing, sometimes called a helmet, but it sort of looks like a giant wrinkly fingernail. The inside is spongy, but the tough edge could really do some damage.

4. Give them private enclosures. Cassowaries are solitary. If you, or any creature, gets too close, you’ll know because when confronted, “the body and neck are stretched vertically, the feathers from the rump forward are raised at the same time so that the bird appears larger, and a rumbling call is given,” according to a 1976 paper. Sometimes they also hiss.

5. Should one escape, realize you probably will not be able to catch it. They can run 30 miles an hour, and jump nearly seven feet, according to the San Diego Zoo.

6. Don’t let them into the house. In 2016, a cassowary locally known as Peanut wandered into an unlocked beach home in Australia. The owners ducked behind a dining room table, took a few photos, and remained unscathed. But the real worry this couple had was of the cassowary’s bodily functions. “I’m just so glad he didn’t do a poo because they are massive and because cassowaries eat quite a few berries their poo is quite purple and it would stain the floor,” the woman later told the Cairns Post.

7. Ply them with fruit. They are “frugivores,” and actually rather good at distributing seeds through their poo, which makes them valuable to plant life. As noted, though they are dangerous, they’re not trying to hunt you for food—they’re just territorial.

8. Maybe, actually, amid the precautions, feel empathy for them. Before the recent events, there hadn’t been a report of a cassowary killing a human since 1926. The birds are considered endangered in Australia thanks to humans encroaching on their habitat and hitting them with cars. Maybe the real flightless flabby-winged murder bird is … us?

9. Here’s a fun idea for a sign to put up outside your home: “Be Cass-o-wary.”