Brolga FAQ 1

The Brolga Antigone rubicunda is an icon bird for Australians, and the only crane found in New Guinea. Australia is now known to have Sarus Cranes Antigone antigone as well, so an earlier common name for Brolga (Australian Crane, attributed to John Gould) may be confusing. Here in Brolga FAQs Part 1 we look at Brolga features, size, location and numbers. An introduction to Brolgas and Sarus Cranes including comparison photos is in Ozcranes Australia/New Guinea Cranes Introduction».


Brolga head showing feathered earpatch and dewlap (dark pouch below the throat) and ear patch (Michael Todd) ↓

Brolga head

The Brolga is a tall, stately grey bird with bare red skin behind the eyes, extending down only as far as the top of the neck. Legs are black to dark greyish-black. Under the throat they have a dark pouch or dewlap, which may help extend the resonance of penetrating calls made by pairs (unison) or among groups. Brolgas are the only crane to have glands near the eye (or specialised tear ducts) that excrete salt, so can drink salt water. Cranes have a raised, reduced hind toe and only the three main (front) toes show in most photographs and footprints. Brolga wingspan is 1.7 to 2.4m, which creates issues near powerlines and fences (more in Ozcranes Conservation»).

Are northern and southern Brolgas effectively, separate breeding populations? Is there any indication (as was once believed) they are separate sub-species? The Brolga Genetics Project partly addressed this question, there seems to be some basis for partial breeding separation. The full paper can be downloaded from ResearchGate here.

Adam D Miller, Inka Veltheim, Timothy Nevard, Han Ming Gan and Martin Haase 2019, Microsatellite loci and the complete mitochondrial DNA sequence characterised through next-generation sequencing and de novo genome assembly, and a preliminary assessment of population genetic structure for the Australian crane, Antigone rubicunda. Avian Biology Research 12(2): 49-58.

Size comparisons

Brolga height compared with person and roadside post; and food begging behaviour (Rob Gray) and (CHRC Libraries)

Brolga heightBrolga height

A table with measurements for Brolgas and Australian Sarus Cranes is in Ozcranes Crane Intro». Males are slightly larger than females. One way of estimating male Brolga size is to view them standing near people. Australia Zoo has photos of zoo rangers kneeling or standing beside male Brolgas (scroll down). The Brolgas soliciting food in the above image are at Longreach, southern Queensland (but Brolgas can be aggressive, Ozcranes doesn't recommend feeding wild birds).

General Brolga links

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As per Ozcranes New Guinea Brolgas», there are no numbers for Brolgas in New Guinea. The International Crane Foundation estimates there may be up to 100,000 Brolgas in Australia, and the accepted minimum is now 50,000 following the 2008 National Waterbird Survey [5, 6], more below. For particular sites, a table with past survey numbers for the Townsville Town Common, from some hard to find references, is in Ozcranes Conservation Burning for Brolgas. Some other survey numbers for Australia Brolgas:

[1] HJ Lavery & JG Blackman (1969) The cranes of Australia. DPI Queensland, Brisbane
[2] Morton et al 1993, Distribution and abundance of Brolgas and Black-necked Storks in the Alligator Rivers region, Northern Territory Emu 93(2): 88-92
[3] Halse et al 2005, Mandora Marsh, north-western Australia, an arid-zone wetland maintaining continental populations of waterbirds Emu 105(2): 115-125
[4] R Chatto (2006) The distribution and status of waterbirds around the coast and coastal wetlands of the Northern Territory Technical report 76, Parks and Wildlife Commission Northern Territory, NT Australia
[5] Kingsford et al (2012) National waterbird assessment, Waterlines report, National Water Commission, Canberra
[6] Veltheim, I. and Sundar, K.S.G. (2019). Brolga (Grus rubicunda). In: Mirande, C. & Harris, J. (Eds). Crane Conservation Strategy. International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, Wisconsin USA

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National Waterbird Survey 2008

Brolga distribution map Australia
Cranes counted by nationwide aerial surveys 30.09.2008-31.11.2008

Abbreviations: Bulloo-Bancannia (BB: 1), Gulf of Carpentaria (GC: 14,710), Indian Ocean (IO: 107), Lake Eyre (LE: 253), Murray Darling (MD: 127), North East Coast (NEC: 1,117), South Australian Gulf (SAG:0), South East Coast (SEC: 8), South West Coast (SWC: 0), Timor Sea (TS: 32,136), Western Plateau (WP: 3,510). TOTAL: 51,969. Attribution for the original map (Geoscience Australia) is in the Sidebar

The 2008 National Waterbird Survey was the first nationwide survey for waterbirds and is the only survey so far to cover the whole Top End of Australia, where all Sarus Cranes and most Brolgas are found. The aerial surveys counted birds on wetlands by region, between 30 September and end of November 2008. This is the end of the northern Dry season, when birds congregate on remaining wetlands.

The surveys recorded 51,969 cranes. Details are in Kingsford et al (2012) National waterbird assessment, Waterlines report, National Water Commission, Canberra. The survey method can't distinguish between Brolga and Sarus Crane from the air, so any Sarus observed are included in the totals. Aerial surveys are well-known to underestimate numbers, but (as above) the total gives reliable minimum levels for total Australian cranes and Brolgas.

Two figures are known underestimates. The South East Coast Brolga population is about 1,000, from counts in SW Victoria and elsewhere. For the North East Coast, the total of 1,117 for the whole basin is also an underestinate. Coincidentally, the aerial surveys were done close to the time of the 2008 North Queensland Crane Count». On the evening of 4 October 5,200 cranes (both species) were counted flying into roosts (Atherton Tablelands & surrounds, Ingham, Townsville, Lakeland: Annual Crane Counts» and E Scambler unpublished data).

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Next Brolga FAQ food and water» or FAQ 2 | Breeding»

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