The World’s Most Dangerous Bird

Behind the Scenes at the National Zoo With the World’s Most Dangerous Bird

The zoo’s cassowary “still has that mysterious aura about her—that prehistoric, dinosaur-walking-through-the-rainforest-quality.”

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The National Zoo’s resident cassowary in 2010. (Paul Gallo / Flickr)

 By Jacob Brogan

In the years he has spent looking after the National Zoo’s cassowary, Eric Slovak has never found himself on the receiving end of one of her assaults. That’s impressive, because she’s an uncommonly monstrous creature.

Imagine an ostrich as described by H.P. Lovecraft, or maybe a turkey fused with a velociraptor. Weighing in at close to 150 pounds, she stands on powerful reptilian legs that let her stretch to six feet tall when she needs her full height. Though flightless, the cassowary is covered in a coat of long black feathers, against which her brilliant blue visage—crowned by a towering, keratinous casque—stands out like a symbol in a dream.

The feature she and her kind are best known for, however, is not her plumage. It’s her toenails: On each three-toed foot, one nail is longer than the rest. At five inches, it’s probably the closest thing you’ll find in nature to a railway spike. It isn’t particularly sharp, but it is deadly. Read more.