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Grus rubicundus

(other names Australian Crane, Native Companion)

Images by Sharon McGrigor

The elegant and stately Brolga is the largest water bird in tropical and south-eastern Australia and one of the biggest in the country, standing up to 1.5m tall with a wing span of up to 2.4m. Famous for their intricate and elaborate mating dance which they perform, not only when mating, but out of breeding season as well. This curious dance of the Brolga has become legendary, but we really know very little about this majestic creature. June is the month when Brolgas in Australia’s south are making their way to their wetland breeding grounds. In the north they’re heading out with their new chicks to join massive flocks where new mates pair up for life.

The twentieth century was not kind to Brolgas. In the northern part of their range, particularly in Queensland, a single flock of Brolgas can still number over a thousand birds or more. In the south, however, it’s another story. Apart from sporadic sightings along the coast, they have pretty much disappeared from that region. Their numbers have been hit hard across most of the southern part of their range, largely due to the increase in agriculture, loss of large areas of breeding and feeding wetlands due to the draining for agriculture, shooting and the introduction of foxes. They have been listed as a threatened species in New South Wales and South Australia for some time now, but it was only in the early 1980s that Victorians realised they were also in serious danger of losing the glorious Brolga altogether.

The Brolga is an effective communication tool for promoting wetland conservation. Conservation efforts targeted at Brolga wetlands will encapsulate the protection of many other water bird species.

The Brolga was erroneously misclassified back in 1810 to be in the same family as herons and egrets, and these great long-necked, long-legged, long-billed wading birds are often visually mistaken for being part of the Stork family! But our magnificent Brolga is in fact part of the Crane Family, along with our Sarus Crane (Grus antigone), which is limited to a few scattered localities in northern Queensland. The differences between the Crane and the Stork family are mostly anatomical. Cranes having a different cleft palate, an enlarged intestinal caeca, elevated hind-toed feet, but also they have the habit of nesting and roosting in water on swamps or nearby on the ground, as opposed to Storks, which nest high up on nest platforms they build in tree tops.

The male is slightly bigger (weighing up to 7 kg) than the female (up to 6 kg) but otherwise very similar and both are tall slender water birds, adults as tall as 1.3m with a wingspan of up to 2.4m. Juveniles are similar to adults but with a less red coloured head. Chicks are grey with even paler markings, head covered with buff down, eye dark brown, feet pink-grey.

Brolgas are omnivorous and eat a variety of wetland plants, insects, invertebrates and small vertebrates such as frogs. They also eat wetland and upland plants, seeds, shoots, bulbs, molluscs, and crustaceans. Northern Australian populations of Brolga are particularly fond of the tubers of the Bulkuru Sedge which they dig holes up to 15cm deep to extract, but this is not available south of Brisbane.

Their beautiful and elaborate mating dance begins with a bird picking up some grass and tossing it into the air, catching it in its bill, then progresses to jumping a metre into the air with outstretched wings, then stretching, bowing, walking, calling, and bobbing its head. Sometimes just one Brolga dances for its mate; often they dance in pairs; and sometimes a whole group of about a dozen dance together. Lining up roughly opposite each other before starting, they step forward on long, stilt legs, wings open and shaking, bowing and bobbing their heads, they advance and retire, every so often stopping to throw back their head and trumpet wildly. Sometimes they leap into the air a metre or more and parachute back to the ground on their broad black/grey wings. It’s quite spectacular to see! When Brolgas pair up with a mate they stay together for life, which is somewhere around seven years or more, but it’s not known for sure exactly how long they can live in the wild.

Written by by Danielle Davis

Image by Sharon McGrigor
Image by Sharon McGrigor
Image by Sharon McGrigor


ref:- abc.net.au/science
ozcranes.net/research/brolga wikipedia.org/wiki/brolga

Updated March 2021  

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