In most cities and towns across Australia, a flash of the headlights from an oncoming motorist usually means that police are ahead and you should watch your speed.
- Mission Beach residents want visiting motorists to flash headlights to warn of cassowaries on the road
- About 40 cassowaries have been reported as killed on local roads since 2017
- Queensland police say flashing headlights as a hazard warning is legal in most circumstances
But in Far North Queensland, it can also be a warning that a 50-kilogram bird is waiting around the next bend.
Mission Beach is a hotspot for one of Australia’s most iconic bird species, the southern cassowary.
Although the area is known as the Cassowary Coast, it is estimated that fewer than 4,000 individuals remain in the wild.
Since 2017, at least 57 of the endangered cassowaries have been hit by vehicles on local roads and 40 of those have died.
Tully veterinarian Graham Lauridsen is often one of the first people called when a cassowary is hit by a car.
He said the true number of cassowary injuries or fatalities was likely to be higher.
“There are certainly birds that don’t get reported as being hit or injured and that’s pretty common,” Dr Lauridsen said.
Police endorse headlight flashing
Cassowary Coast regional councillor Trudy Tschui said it was important that all road users remained vigilant about the presence of cassowaries on roads.
“We all need to be mindful, so flashing your lights [and] putting your hazard lights on are an indication a cassowary might be on the road.”
Innisfail Highway Patrol Sergeant Scott Hayes said despite popular belief, flashing headlights to alert other motorists was legal.
“Personally, I do it myself because the flashing just gives people a wake-up that there could be a hazard ahead on the road,” he said.
“If it’s night-time and you’re putting your high beams on continuously then that’s a different story, but the flashing of headlights isn’t going to cause any issues.”
Sergeant Hayes said it was an offence for motorists to use their headlights to alert others to the presence of highway patrols on the road, although it was rarely enforced.
Blasé locals behind most collisions
Despite its size, the chances of a cassowary surviving a hit by a car are low.
“The injuries are normally pretty severe,” Dr Lauridsen said.
“Either the bird actually dies at the scene or … we have to euthanase it because of the nature of its injuries.”
Dr Lauridsen said the majority of the birds struck by cars in Mission Beach were actually hit by local residents.
“The locals are the ones who are a bit blasé about it and a bit used to the normality of cassowaries, so flashing lights for those guys might be a good idea,” he said.
Ms Tschui implored anyone who hit a cassowary to report it immediately to the Queensland Department of Environment and Science (DES) or Mission Beach Wildcare.
“Nobody’s going to think less of you if it’s an accident,” she said.
“If you’ve eaten a banana or you’ve eaten half an apple and you want to get rid of it because it’s biodegradable and you can just throw it out the window, please don’t,” she said.
“The birds will stop by the side of the road and scavenge food scraps left there.
“It’s really important to keep all food scraps in the car until you can dispose of them properly.”
Posted , updated