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Mischievous Birds I Have Known – Margie the Cassowary

CassowaryParrots are well-known for causing mischief by both word and action (please see article below), but they are certainly not the only birds capable of “misdeeds”. Today I’d like to introduce you to one member of the cast of avian troublemakers who have amused me with their antics over the years. From Birds of Paradise to King Vultures, my zoo years were filled with unique characters that gave new meaning to the phrase “Never a dull moment”!

Courting Trouble

Armed with powerful legs and a long, sharp spike on each foot, the huge Cassowary is one of the world’s most formidable birds. Margie, long under my care at the Bronx Zoo, was peaceful enough, but always refused to come indoors for the evening. She was given snacks during the day, and caught grasshoppers, mice and other treats on her own, and so was rarely hungry enough to be lured with food. 

Margie particularly disliked a co-worker of mine, and so at closing time he would enter her cage, whereupon she would charge him with murder in her eyes. As he bolted out of the holding cage, I would slam the door, locking her indoors for the night (we had to re-enact this little game with a herd of peccaries and a pygmy hippo as well, and so kept in relatively good shape!).

Punching Bag for a Cassowary

My co-worker, a good-hearted fellow who genuinely loved his job, felt bad for the frustrated Margie…he believed she really deserved to catch him just once, or at least to vent her anger. He assuaged his guilt by occasionally locking me into Margie’s cage for a few seconds as she chased me out (I doubt this did much for the bird, but it certainly kept me on my toes!). But his favorite ploy was to lounge with his back resting against her holding cage (a chain-link fence through which her sharp spur could not fit). Upon seeing this, Margie would very slowly and carefully sneak up behind him and then shoot out a mighty kick.  My co-worker would careen across a narrow alleyway, bounce off another cage, and then hit Margie’s cage again…whereupon he would be rewarded with yet another blow.

I watched this odd game many times, and was always left with the impression that Margie looked forward to it as much as we did.  This was decades before “behavioral enrichment” became a zoo catch-phrase, but it certainly was just that. Margie lived a very long life in the peak of good health, and really did seem to “look forward” to chasing us.

Cassowary vs. Frogmouth

Margie may have saved my job by hesitating to slaughter one of her neighbors.  While still a novice bird keeper, I once allowed a Tawny Frogmouth (a wonderfully-odd Australian bird, please see photo) to fly past me as I entered its cage. This was in a holding building, where birds were held for breeding.

The Frogmouth flew into Margie’s open-topped enclosure. The very territorial Cassowary spun to confront intruder – intending, I’m sure, to kick him into oblivion. But rather than trying to escape her, as did every other sane creature, the Frogmouth employed its classic “dead stump” defense (please see photo) by freezing in place with head pointed skyward. This seemed to puzzle Margie, and had the added benefit of allowing me enough time to rush in and snatch him up (somehow avoiding a kick to the chest or points south in the process).

Tawny FrogmouthI returned the lucky fellow to his cage, and was spared explaining why we were short 1 well-liked, breeding male Frogmouth.

I’ll cover some other unique avian characters in future articles…please write in with your own bird stories and experiences.



Further Reading

Parrots Behaving Badly: Beer Guzzling and Cursing

Video: Cassowary foraging and drinking

Parrots and Loose Women

Tawny Frogmouth Natural History

Cassowary image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen
Tawny Frogmouth image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Michael Howard


  1. avatar

    Really enjoyed this post on mischevious birds. My bird club got a tour of the bird house at the zoo last year and learned that their Cassowary got loose. But they managed to find him before he caused any damage.

    Glad that the Tawny Frogmouth was spared.

  2. avatar

    Hello Melissa, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Nice to hear from you again…thanks and happy that you enjoyed. Lots of interesting goings-on behind the scenes, glad you got to see that (was this at the Bronx Zoo?). Bronx Zoo also has some off-exhibit breeding houses, outdoor pens; one had always been devoted to Birds of Paradise, really amazing. I plan to include more zoo/wild bird articles in the future.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    How about the crow I raised who would come into our window for visits.
    One time he went over to my computer where I stupidly left my checkbook and tried to bolt out the window! And the next day he stole a pen.
    I did get the checkbook back but not the pen, I still wonder what kind if gypsy clan he joined and made sure to check my bank statements

  4. avatar

    Hi Jodi,

    Very good!…crows and their relatives are amazing; in Finland (?) ravens learned how to wind up ice-fishing lines in order to steal bait…line owners, warming up in huts, blamed each other. You might enjoy this on some thieving jay thrushes I cared for. Best, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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