Brolga FAQ 2

This page covers Brolga breeding habitat, nests, eggs and development. Size, locations, numbers, food and water are in FAQ 1 and Brolga food and water. An introduction to Brolgas and Sarus Cranes with comparison photos is in Ozcranes Australia/ New Guinea Cranes Intro.

Breeding habitat

↓ Brolgas nesting at the Western Treatment Plant, Werribee, Victoria (E. Silvius)

Brolga nest WTP

In south-eastern Australia Brolgas prefer to nest in shallow wetlands, often seasonal, in marshland or meadows with emergent vegetation, and this habitat can be replicated in carefully-designed farm dams. However most Brolgas live in the tropics, where nesting habitat varies from coastal floodplains [1] to tiny cattle dams or soaks in more arid regions. In the seasonally-flooded Gulf Plains of NW Queensland Brolgas mostly nest in open grassy plains, but some use woodland habitats alongside nesting Sarus Cranes [2]. Most nesting is initiated by rainfall, but some Brolgas start building their nest before rains begin. Later, rising water forms a moat around the nest [3].

↓ Wetland in grassy plains, Gulf Plains (K.S. Gopi Sundar)

Brolga habitat Gulf

[1] JG Blackman (1978). The swamps in ‘Exploration North: Australia's wildlife from desert to reef’, ed HJ Lavery. Richmond Hill, Vic: 147-183.
[2] KSG Gopi Sundar, John DA. Grant, Inka Veltheim, Swati Kittur, Kate Brandis, Michael A. McCarthy and Elinor C. Scambler (2019). Sympatric cranes in northern Australia: abundance, breeding success, habitat preference and diet, Emu 119: 79-89
[3] GW Archibald & SR Swengel (1987). Comparative ecology and behavior of eastern Sarus Cranes and Brolgas in Australia Proceedings of the 1985 Crane Workshop, ed JC Lewis: 107-116 (Download this reference from Ozcranes Downloads»)

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Nests and eggs

Brolga nesting is well-known from studies on the Vulnerable south eastern population, plus just two studies in the north [1, 3]. Walkinshaw [4] gives a summary: nesting is not colonial, each pair defends a nesting territory up to 300ha, containing one or several wetlands [5, 6]. Both sexes build the nest. It may be just a scrape in the ground but more usually, is a platform of grasses and other vegetation as wide as 142cm across, with a water ‘moat’ to 50cm deep. There are 1-3 (mostly 2) eggs [7], 95mm x 60mm, weighing 170-195g. Both sexes incubate, hatching is in about 30 days. Chicks leave the nest and can swim at only 1-2 days old.

[4] LH Walkinshaw (1973). Cranes of the world. New York, Winchester.
[5] JD Arnol et al. (1984) ‘Management of the Brolga (Grus rubicundus) in Victoria’. Technical Report Series. Melbourne, VIC, Victoria Fisheries and Wildlife Service, Dept of Conservation, Forests & Lands
[6] Veltheim, Inka, Simon Cook, Grant Palmer, Richard Hill, and Michael McCarthy (2019). Breeding Home Range Movements of Pre-Fledged Brolga Chicks, Antigone rubicunda (Gruidae) in Victoria, Australia – Implications for Wind Farm Planning and Conservation. Global Ecology and Conservation (e00703).
[7] Elinor C. Scambler, John DA Grant and N. Glenn Holmes (2020). First observations of Australian Sarus Crane Antigone antigone gillae pairs attending three young and the incidence of three-egg clutches in the Brolga A. rubicunda. Australian Field Ornithology 37: 105-111.

Brolga eggs Brolga turning eggs

Brolga eggs, SE Australia: courtesy Mitch Reardon. Brolga turning eggs, NSW: (P Merritt)

Nest videos and images

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Historical nesting sites

The Table shows published records of nests, eggs, and flightless young 1907-2017. These records are evidence of breeding at the actual place of nesting, in the Gulf Plains and adjacent regions.

28 Sept-4 April 1905-7 [8] Nests with new eggs Richmond District, Flinders catchment
26 March 1910 [9] Nest with fresh eggs Sedan Dip, Flinders Catchment
21 January 1916 [10] Pair building nest in rushes in salt pan King R. near Coleman R., W CYP
Nov-Jan 1924-5 [11] Several nests, clutch 2 Small lagoon 6 mi from Burketown, Nicholson catchment
Jan-Feb 1984 [3] (above) 25 nests, 17 with eggs (2x1, 15x2) Morr Morr (Delta Downs) Station, Gilbert catchment

[8] Berney, F. L. (1907). Field Notes on Birds of the Richmond District, North Queensland, Part IV. Emu 6: 106-115
[9] McGillivray, W. (1914). Notes on some North Queensland birds. Emu 13: 132-186
[10] McLennan, W. R. (1917). North Queensland birds. Emu 16: 205-231
[11] Church, A. E. (1925). Birds Observed at Burketown, North Queensland. Emu 24: 290-295


↓ L: Brolga feeding chick: captive, Lara, VIC. (Kerry). R: Chick and immature Brolga, Carpentaria Shire, NW Qld (M Carstairs)


Both parents feed, brood and guard the young, which are fully-feathered at around 13 weeks and can fly soon after. They stay with their parents for up to 11 months until the next breeding season, and develop full head and leg colouring over the next 2-3 years. Brolgas pair at 3-4 years, and first breed successfully when 5 years old. They form long term pair bonds.

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Next: Brolga FAQ 3 | Dry season habitats and behaviour»

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