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 need shallow water every day to drink, bathe and roost overnight. As well, wetlands are essential for nesting and provide many daytime feeding sites. Almost all southern Brolgas breed on farms, in the north they use pastoral properties and protected lands. 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 pastgoral and agricultural storages with shallow edges, coastal mudflats, inland swamps.
↑ Brolgas roosting in shallow water, W Qld (Bob Forsyth)
Non-breeding daytime feeding areas are also varied and may be far from water, on farms and other rural lands. 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.
GALLERY: Brolga Recovery Group gallery with images of southern Brolgas in various habitats.
Brolgas, like cranes worldwide, are famous for the spectacular leaping and bowing displays (‘dances’) which are part of pair formation and longterm bonding. 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. Preening, bathing, wing stretching and similar actions are essential repair and maintenance known as ‘comfort behaviour’, for healthy feathers and muscles. Ian Fraser has a good explanation here (and scroll down for another Brolga preening image).
VIDEOS: Brolgas displaying on roadside, wet season, far north Western Australia; courtship display - bowing, jumping, bill-touching: Northern Territory (YouTube). Brolga courtship display at sunrise, Victoria (from Brolga Recovery Group, on Vimeo).
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.
Some examples of agonistic, or combative/ aggressive behaviour by Brolgas to other species:
- SWIFFT shows an image of a nesting Brolga confronting a feral fox in the breeding swamp (scroll about half way down)
- Photographer Peter Merritt took an extraordinary series of images in south eastern Australia, showing a nesting Brolga systematically destroying the nest of a Black Swan pair that had built near the Brolgas
- As reported by HANZAB2, the famous story of the fisherman and the Brolga: ‘Single record of Brolga attacking a man, who, pecked on posterior, contracted in wound a new anaerobe, Clostridium brolgaseptica. Attacking bird was beaten off with a half-empty bottle of Ord Ale, after which it died of a cerebral haemorrhage 
 NF Stanley et al. (1972). ‘The Brolga bites back.’ Med J Aust Dec. 23 2(26): 1461-1462.
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 ».
HybridsResearch on potential Brolga-Sarus hybrids in northern Ausralia is covered in Ozcranes Sarus Crane FAQ 3».
Status and protectionAll jurisdictions protect wildlife through legislation and treaties, which is a different process from assessing threat levels in each place. New Guinea (PNG and Irian Jaya, Indonesia) would be better listed as Data Deficient, current numbers and threats are unknown.
Details of Brolga conservation status
|New Guinea (PNG & Irian Jaya)||Least Concern|
|New South Wales||Vulnerable|
|Northern Territory||Least Concern|
|Western Australia||Least Concern|
In southern Australia a combination of many factors is known to have caused a serious population decline. Major drainage works, diversions to deep water storages and overgrown roost sites have caused Brolgas to desert sites or districts. It's reported many Brolgas were killed in the past by hunting and culling due to agricultural damage , the current extent is unknown. Powerlines have caused deaths in Victoria  and in far north Queensland (Elinor Scambler, John Grant). In southern Australia feral foxes are assumed to be a significant threat to breeding success, but there are no studies. 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 .
 DM White (1987). The status and distribution of the Brolga in Victoria, Australia. Proceedings of the 1983 International Crane Workshop, ICF.
 PW Goldstraw & PB Du Guesclin (1991). Bird casualties from collisions with a 500KV transmission line in southwestern Victoria, Australia. Proceedings of the 1987 International Crane Workshop, ICF.
 S Garnett & R Bredl (1985). Birds in the vicinity of the Edward River Settlement, Part 1. Sunbird 15, pp 6-23. Birds Queensland.
More Brolga conservation on Ozcranes:
- Interactions between Brolgas and Sarus Cranes in Ozcranes Sarus Crane FAQ 3»
- Natural and other hazards for cranes in Ozcranes Conservation»
- Burning for Brolgas: Restoring wetlands with grazing and fire»
- Brolgas can be killed by barb wire: Crane friendly Fencing options»