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Coins Feature Rare Australian Birds
By Dennis G. Rainey, World Coin News
April 11, 2012

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.

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I have written about animal representatives of five of Australia’s World Heritage Areas in Perth Mint’s Celebrate Australia 2010 series (World Coin News, 3/2012). In that article I stated Australia has 19 such areas. The animals in the 2010 series are the eastern quoll, dugong, macaroni penguin, green sea turtle and Blue Mountain tree frog.

Now, I want to start telling you about the continuation of this series for 2011 with animals of five more World Heritage Areas that were issued by Perth Mint in a nice album. Each coin in the album is attached to an informative card that can be removed and set up as a desktop display.

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The following two coins are not yet in a Krause catalog or Numismaster’s database: southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius), 2011, one dollar, and Albert’s lyrebird (Menura alberti), 2011, one dollar. I will continue in a separate article information about the short-eared wallaby, fur seal and the fossil marsupial lion.

Southern Cassowary

The southern cassowary is representative of the Australia Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area that is located in a narrow strip about 1,864 miles long (3,000 km) along the northeastern coast of Queensland with the city of Cairns as the gateway. The once-continuous area has been rather severely fragmented since European settlement by agriculture and urban development and now consists of numerous small isolated pockets of wet rainforests many of which have roads, railroad tracks, power lines, clearings and some dams that may act to restrict wildlife movement. Only 20-25 percent of its original habitat remains now. Weeds, feral animal invasions, dog kills and roadkills compound the problems for animal survival.

There are three species of cassowaries: southern, northern (C. unappendiculus) and dwarf (C. benneti). The southern is found also in New Guinea and Aru Islands, the northern in the lowlands of New Guinea, Yapen Island and west Papuan Islands, and the dwarf in New Guinea, Yapen Island and New Britain. (From The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World, James F. Clements, 6th edition, 2007.) According to Clements the ancient flightless birds are all in the Order Struthioniformes (“ostrich form”), which all have a flat breastbone but arranged in separate families. These are the ostrich (one species), rheas (two genera, two species), cassowaries (one genus, three species), emu (one species) and kiwis (one genus, five species). These birds are sometimes called Ratites. Even though the southern cassowary occurs in northern Australia it gets its common name because it lives south of the main concentration of cassowaries in New Guinea.

The southern cassowary is Australia’s largest flightless bird weighing 132 to 154 pounds (60 to 70 kg) and is 6 feet (1.8 m) tall. Only the ostrich (Africa) is larger. Besides being large it, like the other cassowaries, has a unique large, grey, hard and laterally compressed growth called the “casque” or helmet” on its head whose function can only be speculated. It may act as a crash helmet while moving headfirst rapidly through dense vegetation.

The name “cassowary” is from a Papuan name meaning “horned head.” Its plumage is black and the feathers do not have the complexities of typical feathers and are more hair-like. A tail is lacking. The neck does not have feathers and the skin is bright blue with two long red wattles hang from the neck. The stout legs have three toes on large feet with the inside toe bearing a huge claw shaped like a dagger (3 inches long). The large feet do not hinder running as it can run as fast as 30 miles (50 km) an hour and jump as high as 6.5 feet (2 m). When cornered it defends itself by kicking and is capable of killing a human with its feet.

It prefers fruits (even poisonous kinds) but can eat seeds that are too large for other animals to eat thus acting as a seed disperser (70 to 100 kinds of plants depend almost entirely on this animal). It will eat just about anything including fungi, snails and dead animals.

In nesting season the male uses the same site over and over and builds a nest. The female then lays three to five eggs and departs leaving the male to incubate the eggs and hatching occurs in about 50 days. The male raises the chicks for nine months or longer. The young mature at about age three and may live as long as 40 years.

It is estimated that there now about 2,000 cassowaries alive, but their numbers are decreasing. The IUCN lists this species as Vulnerable with the population decreasing.

Albert’s Lyrebird

Albert’s lyrebird, endemic to Australia, is representative of the Gondwana Rainforests World Heritage Area located in the mountainous area in the border region between New South Wales and Queensland and consists of 50 separate reserves totaling 1,415 square miles (3,665 square kilometers). This is the most extensive area of rainforests in the world. Gondwana was the supercontinent that existed between 510 to 180 million years ago and consisted of what is now Southern Hemisphere (Antarctica, South America, Africa, Madagascar, Australia, Indian subcontinent and Arabian Peninsula). This species is named after Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.

There is another species of lyrebirds in Australia – the superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) – that is much more common and widespread than Albert’s. The superb’s tail consists of 16 feathers of three kinds. The two outer feathers are shaped like a Greek lyre. A lyrebird appears on the Australian 10 cents dating from 1966 to present (KM 65, 81, 402 and 482), which more than likely is the superb species. Both species are ground-dwelling.

Albert’s lyrebird is restricted to a small area between the Blackwell Range in northeastern New South Wales and the Mistake Range in southeastern Queensland and quite difficult to observe. It is smaller than the superb and the beautiful tail in the male lacks the two feathers shaped like a lyre, but it does curl it tail over its head during courtship like the superb does. The Albert’s population is thought to consist of about 1,600 pairs, and the IUCN lists the species as Near Threatened largely based on good management of its habitat by the government.

Its food consists of insects, their larvae and other invertebrates that are found by scratching in the moist soil and leaf litter. It nests between late May and mid-August in a globular nest with a side entrance built on rocky outcroppings and sometimes in small caves using leaves, bark and sticks lined by feathers. A single egg is laid and the chick is raised solely by the female. Lyrebirds (males and females) are famous for their ability to mimic many sounds in their environments similar to the North American mockingbird, but lyrebirds seem to be more skillful at this intriguing behaviorism. Videos with sound chiefly made by the superb can be found on Google. Try this one:

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