Brolga FAQ 3
This page covers Brolga habitats, behaviour and conservation, except for interactions with Sarus Cranes in northern Australia. Size, calls, locations and population numbers are in FAQ 1, and food, drinking and breeding are in FAQ 2. Background to Brolgas and Sarus Cranes with comparison photos is on Ozcranes Australia/New Guinea Cranes Intro page.
← Brolgas roosting in shallow water, W Qld (Bob Forsyth)
Brolgas need shallow water every day to drink, bathe and roost overnight. As well, wetlands are essential for nesting and provide many daytime feeding sites. But there is a vast range of ‘wetland’ types Brolgas use. Especially during the non-breeding (drier) season they move to remaining water sources as others dry, using bore drains and soaks in arid areas, all types and sizes of agricultural and pastoral storages with shallow edges, coastal mudflats, inland swamps.
Non-breeding daytime feeding areas are also varied and may be far from water. Brolgas are attracted to feed on burnt grassland sites, and some traditional Dry season burning in the north was done to attract them as game. Sites with very dense vegetation (aquatic or on land) are avoided. External site: Birdway, images of various Brolga feeding habitats.
Brolgas, like cranes worldwide, are famous for the spectacular leaping and bowing displays (‘dances’) which are part of pair formation and bonding throughout life. The pattern of the unison call trumpeted during displays is unique to each species. They defend their partner and young aggressively and even in non-breeding season flocks, each pair (and the current season's young, if any) keep separate from others so a flock is really a collection of families, plus perhaps some independent immatures still looking for a partner. This separation also applies in flocks flying to roost. They follow a V-formation, but often split with some cranes landing at a particular roost, some flying on elsewhere.
Roosting On landing, the birds move slowly towards water to drink, bathe, preen and dance, then roost usually in the shallows. To get airborne again Brolgas need a run-up, or may walk up a steep grassy hill and take off into the valley.
For an excellent set of images of Brolga courtship displays (‘dancing’) visit Greg Miles images on Flickr. For images of Brolgas and Sarus Cranes taking off, landing and in flight, see Ozcranes Flight Gallery ».
Brolgas depend on wetlands and food supplies beyond wetlands, for survival. In Australia major drainage works, diversions to deep water storages and overgrown roost sites have caused Brolgas to desert sites or districts. As well localised hunting, culling due to agricultural damage, and dog and fox attacks have killed sometimes large numbers of adults or chicks. Only in southern Australia is a combination of all these factors known to have caused a serious population decline, and Brolgas there are classified as Threatened. The impacts of wild pigs on cranes are unclear. Smaller water sources can be seriously damaged and there is debate over whether fiercely aggressive Brolga males can defend nests against pigs. But interestingly some observers have noted Bulkuru sedge (Elaeocharis spp), a key Brolga wetland food, spreads after pig disturbance in swamps.
NEXT: check out the Sarus Crane FAQ 3 page» for interactions between Brolgas and Sarus Cranes in Australia
More.. Dancing Brolgas» Researcher Matthew Herring writes on Brolga conservation, wetland management and the rural community in southern Australia. In Crane Hazards», Ozcranes looks at a range of hazards and risks for both Australian crane species.
Most FAQ facts are from HANZAB2. On feral pigs fostering spread of Bulkuru sedge: S Garnett & R Bredl, 1985. Birds in the vicinity of the Edward River Settlement, Part 1. Sunbird 15, pp 6-23, Birds Queensland. Other references in Ozcranes Resources.