Cranes on Farms 1

Introducing some important habitats for Brolgas and Sarus Cranes on production properties in eastern and northern Australia. Eleven of the world's fifteen crane species are threatened in at least part of their range. Where cranes are surviving or doing well, the keys are good land managment and good relationships with people.

Brolgas breeding in rice crops

From Matthew Herring, Ozcranes' southern contact:

It's a rare event. I'd heard about it but until this year I hadn't seen it for myself. There they were – a pair of Brolgas that had bred in a rice crop. The landholders were delighted, as was I. In the New South Wales Riverina, the 2012-2013 season amounted to more than 100,000 hectares of rice. And that amount isn't unusual outside of drought.

So why don't Brolgas breed in rice crops more often? By the time there's sufficient material to build a nest (late November – early December), it might be too late in their season. Is there a lack of tubers from native waterplants like Eleocharis spike-rushes? Maybe they breed in rice crops more than we realise. Can we encourage Brolgas to make better use of these agricultural wetlands? So many questions, so much work to do!

The Bitterns in Rice project, a collaboration between Birdlife Australia, the Rice Growers' Association of Australia and other organisations, is developing rice-growing guidelines that will benefit the globally endangered Australasian Bittern. Along the way, we hope to incorporate the conservation of Brolgas and other threatened waterbirds like the Australian Painted Snipe.

Brolga family breeding in rice fields, January 2013, Deniliquin, Australia, chick with red arrow

Brolga family in lucerne, 2005 Matt Herring

Brolga family in rice Brolga family in lucerne

Some references on cranes in rice

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Farm and pastoral wetlands

Brolga wetland field day

← Field Day for threatened Brolga wetlands (Matthew Herring, Victoria, SE Australia)

Landholders and other interested visitors gather at Warren and Judy Miles' wetland in the Durham Ox district and discuss management issues, during one of three Brolga field days held across northern Victoria in September 2004. Brolgas were one of eight case study species in the Threatened Species and Farming project undertaken across Victoria by the Department of Sustainability and Environment and the Department of Primary Industries, together with the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research. More: Read Matt's article ‘Dancing Brolgas’ on managing wetlands for Brolgas.

Brolga dam far north Qld

Pastoral dam hosting thousands of Brolgas and a few Sarus Cranes in the northern non-breeding, or flocking, season (Rupert Russell, Upper Herbert, far north Qld) →

This shallow 12 ha pastoral storage was built in 1972 by pushing an embankment to dam overland Wet season flow. Thousands of waterbirds, including significant Brolga numbers, feed, rest and roost here in the northern winter (the Dry, non-breeding season). This ideal crane ‘flocking’ habitat has shallow water, surrounded by grassy woodland with moderate grazing to keep grasses short. The Brolgas and some Sarus Cranes feed in neighbouring maize croplands and pasture most of the day. In drought, numbers at this Crane Count site drop to about 200.

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Crop Stubbles

Wintering Sarus Cranes on the Atherton Tableland feed most often in maize stubble. They also comb ploughed paddocks for seeds and invertebrates, and rarely feed in cane trash (images Colleen Watson and Sandy Carroll) ↓

Cranes in wheat stubble Cranes in ploughed field

Dr John Grant is surveying daytime flocks of Sarus Cranes on the Atherton Tableland to determine preferred feeding habitat, with results showing maize and short pasture are preferred over harvested canefields. A key focus for the ongoing annual north Queensland Crane Counts is the importance of changing agricultural industries in the area for this significant part of Australia's Sarus population.

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Cranes and Grazing

The grazed shorelines of Lake Tinaroo, Atherton Tablelands, provide suitable roosts for wintering Sarsus Cranes (Sandy Carroll)

Grazing on Tinaroo Cranes on Tinaroo shore

Cattle coexist well with crane species in many countries. Short-grazed pasture is second only to harvested maize fields for foraging Sarus Cranes and Brolgas on the Atherton Tablelands and Upper Herbert region (non-breeding season). The only known significant breeding area for Sarus Cranes in Australia, in the Gilbert River complex, Gulf of Carpentaria, is mostly grazed pastoral land. For guidelines on maximising Brolga habitat on southern Australian grazing properties, including farm dams, visit Murray Wildlife.


Goodbye Sarus?» Grazing seems essential to maintain crane roost habitat on the Atherton Tableland. Once cattle are removed, rank growth can only be controlled by fire and/or mechanical or chemical means.

Burning for Brolgas» Restoring overgrown wetlands with grazing and fire in north Queensland.

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