Sarus Crane food & water

Like Brolgas, Sarus Cranes are omnivorous, eating many foods. However there are few feeding records for Australian Sarus. Maize seeds, native plants including grasses, grasshoppers and rats have been reported, and it's been suggested they may feed on plentiful pipis (small molluscs) along the shores of Lake Tinaroo, Atherton Tablelands. There are occasional observations of Sarus Cranes stretching up to take ripe maize kernels from the cob on the edges of fields (C Edwards, J Munro: Atherton Tablelands). On this page Ozcranes presents records and images of Australian Sarus Cranes foraging, records of food items, and a rare photograph of them drinking (as well as some images of Indian Sarus Cranes).

Sarus Crane FAQs 1 covers sub-species, features, size, location and numbers. An introduction to Brolgas and Sarus Cranes including comparison photos and calls, is in Ozcranes Australia/New Guinea Cranes Intro.


Sarus Crane fishing Sarus Crane fishing

↑ Australian Sarus Crane fishing, Gulf Plains, north-west Queensland (courtesy Helen Dunne). (L): Sarus steps forward to pounce into water (R): Sarus head up after taking small fish, water running off neck and bill.

There are several ways to determine foods eaten by cranes. Direct observation (including photography), either opportunistic or in a planned study; to examine gut contents (from specimens, i.e. freshly-killed birds); and by analysing faeces or moulted feathers. In the non-breeding season, a three-year study of Sarus Cranes foraging on the Atherton Tablelands showed that they feed (in order of preference) in post-harvest grain fields, ploughed land, sown maize and peanuts [1]. A long-term study (not yet published) found that Tablelands Sarus prefer maize stubble, then plough, then low-grazed pasture, and occasionally they feed amongst sugar cane trash [2]. On the Gulf breeding grounds, analyses of moulted Sarus Crane feathers found they are more folivorous than Brolgas, which fed from a wider range of foods [3]. Other records are in the following table.

Australian Sarus Cranes: food

Al records are observations, except Lavery & Blackman 1969 (stomachs)

Food itemLocationSeason
maize seed, native grasses [4], Atherton Tablelands non-breeding
rodents [5],[6],[9], [8] Atherton Tablelands non-breeding
insects [6] Atherton Tablelands non-breeding
aquatic animals [6] Atherton Tablelands non-breeding
sedge tubers [6] Atherton Tablelands non-breeding
maize seed, off cob [10] Atherton Tablelands non-breeding
maize seed, off ground [6] Atherton Tablelands non-breeding
rodents, crabs [9] Gulf Plains breeding
grasshoppers [7] Gulf Plains breeding

↓ L: Gulf Plains, Sarus Crane eating crab (Tim Nevard»); R: India, Sarus Crane pecking rice grains from the stalks (K.S. Gopi Sundar)

Sarus Crane eating crab Sarus Crane picking at rice

↓ Closeup of Indian Sarus Crane feeding in water (K.S. Gopi Sundar)

Indian Sarus Crane feeding in water
Sarus subadult foraging Sarus Crane and juvenile hunting

↑ Gulf Plains. L: Sarus subadult foraging on edge of borrow pit, Miranda Downs. R: Sarus Crane and juvenile hunting in borrow pit, Gilbert River (K.S. Gopi Sundar)

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Sarus Cranes drink and bathe every morning and evening and often also during the day. Unlike Brolgas they have no specialised gland for excreting salt, but some Eastern Sarus Cranes roost in saline wetlands and Indian Sarus sometimes feed on beaches and would ingest some salt from prey. Sarus Cranes have been seen on the beach at Karumba, Queensland (J Grant). There appear to be no published observations of Australian Sarus drinking, to document whether they drink brackish as well as fresh water.

Photographs of Australian Sarus Cranes drinking are rare. L: Walking away after drinking at cattle trough, Bromfield Swamp farm (L Fisher); R: Drinking on the edge of Lake Tinaroo, a major impoundment (Sandy Carroll). Both on the Atherton Tablelands, far north Queensland.

Sarus Cranes drinking Sarus Cranes drinking

Indian Sarus Crane shaking and stretching wings to dry off after bathing (K.S. Gopi Sundar)

Sarus Crane drying Sarus Cranedrying


[1] Nevard Timothy D., Franklin Donald C., Leiper Ian, Archibald George, Garnett Stephen T. 2019. Agriculture, brolgas and Australian sarus cranes on the Atherton Tablelands, Australia. Pacific Conservation Biology 25: 377-385.

[2] Grant, John DA. 2002. Demographic and ecological studies of Sarus Cranes on the Tablelands. Cranes Newsletter 5. BirdLife Northern Queensland, Cairns. (read on Ozcranes»)

[3] 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-Austral Ornithology 119: 79-89.

[4] Lavery, HJ., Blackman JG. 1969. The cranes of Australia. Queensland Agricultural Journal 95: 156-162.

[5] Archibald, G.W., Swengel, S.R. 1987. Comparative ecology and behaviour of eastern sarus cranes and brolgas in Australia. In Proceedings of the 1985 Crane Workshop. (Ed. J.C. Lewis.) pp. 107-116. International Crane Foundation. (download on Ozcranes»)

[6] Archibald, G.W. 1981. Introducing the sarolga. In Crane Research Around the World. Proceedings of the International Crane Symposium at Sapporo, Japan in 1980 (eds J.C. Lewis & H. Masatomi).pp. 213-215.

[7] Walkinshaw, L.H. 1973. Cranes of the World. Winchester Press, New York, USA.

[8] Brown, BC., Archibald GW. Captive Brolgas and Sarus Cranes prey on wild mice. Emu 77: 39-40.

[9] T. Nevard personal communication. [10] C. Edwards and J. Munro personal communication.

Next: Sarus Crane FAQ 2 | Breeding»

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