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Brolgas or Australian Cranes
The Australian Crane
The Australian crane is also known as the brolga, and its scientific name is Grus rubicunda. The famous bird artist John Gould gave it the name of Australian crane in 1865.
It is a large bird, standing about 1.8 metres (just under 6 ft) in height, and it has a wingspan of 2 metres (About 6 ft). It is dark gray, and has a large beak and dark legs. Young brolgas have fully feathered heads, but they lose this at between one and two years old, when their heads turn to a pale red colour.
Adults have a black dewlap, and the males are a little larger than the females. A mature male will weigh about 7 kilos (15lbs) and a female 6 kilos (13lbs).
Head of a Brolga
Brolgas in Kakadu National Park
Brolgas Can Dance
Brolgas are famous for their dancing, and any bird, of any age may, suddenly break into a dance, sometimes carrying sticks or flowers, and leaping into the air.
When I lived in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia, while driving to the airport, I was lucky enough to see a pair of these birds dancing at the roadside. I wish I'd had a camera with me, but at least I have the memory. It was a magical moment. The birds weren't worried by the cars driving by, and just continued dancing.
Habitat of the Brolga
The brolga can be found in many parts of Australia, ranging from the tropics, to Western Victoria, and the central areas of South Australia and New South Wales. It is more common is areas where there is permanent water, such as the tropical parts of the country which get the monsoon rains.
These birds are found in wetlands, particularly in the Northern Territory and Queensland, and also can be found in grassland and coastal wetlands. Arid areas are not to its liking, as it prefers a more moist environment.
Brolgas may gather in large groups of up to 100 birds outside of the breeding season. They are not usually migratory, but some birds may move with the seasons, mostly dependant on the available food supply.
The birds live in wetlands because they require shallow water. It's an everyday necessity for them, as they need to drink and bath. Wetlands also provide a safe place roost overnight. As well, wetlands are essential for nesting and provide many daytime feeding sites.
Have you ever seen a brolga in the wild?
Nesting Pair of Australian Cranes
What Brolgas Eat
These birds eat both vegetable and animal matter, and will also feed on crops and tubers. Slugs, snails, insects, frogs and mice are taken when available. They will also take fish and crustaceans.
A Brolga Egg
It is thought that brolgas mate for life, and their displays and dancing may strengthen their bond. During courtship displays they may leap into the air, dance, flap their wings, and trumpet loudly.
A mating pair will establish their own territory, and both male and female will defend it. A pair of brolgas may use the same nesting site for up to 20 years. They prefer to build a nest on a small island in shallow water. The nest will be a mound of vegetation.
Usually two eggs are laid, but one or three is not uncommon. The eggs are brown and purple blotches on a white background. Both parents will sit on the eggs, which hatch in 30 to 33 days. The young are hatched able to walk, and have their eyes open. They also have some down, and mature faster than birds born naked with closed eyes. Both the male and female birds will feed and care for the young.
Brolga chicks will have all their feathers in about three months, and will be able to fly before they are four months old. If there is danger, the chicks will remain quiet and hidden, and the parents will often pretend to have a broken wing. This is to distract any predator which may be around.
The young will stay with the parents for up to eleven months, and may stay for another year, if breeding does not take place.
The Future For The Brolga
Brolgas are fairly numerous at the moment, and are not classified as endangered, except in New South Wales, where habitat loss has been severe.
Conservation can be helped by returning land to its natural state of wetland, which would give the cranes more nesting and feeding sites, which would naturally lead to a bigger population.
In the Northern Territory, there are large areas of National Park, where the brolga is able to live as it always has. Hopefully, there will always be brolgas in Australia to delight everyone with their dancing.