Brolga FAQ 3

This page covers Brolga dry season (non-breeding) habitats and behaviour. Size, calls, locations and numbers are in FAQ 1. Food and water are in FAQ food & water, and breeding habitat, nests, eggs and development are covered in FAQ 2. Background to Brolgas and Sarus Cranes with comparison photos is on Ozcranes Australia/New Guinea Cranes Intro page. Interactions between Brolgas and Sarus Cranes are in Sarus Crane FAQ 3».


Brolgas need shallow water every day to drink, bathe and roost overnight. Wetlands also provide many daytime feeding sites. In the non-breeding season Brolgas move to remaining water sources as others dry, using bore drains and soaks in arid areas; all types and sizes of pastoral and agricultural storages with shallow edges; coastal mudflats; and inland swamps. In the Gulf Plains and on Cape York Peninsula, many Brolgas are observed in family groups or small parties throughout the non-breeding period, but elsewhere small to very large numbers roost communally.

↓ Up to 1,500 Brolgas roost at a pastoral dam, Upper Herbert, far north Queensland (R Russell))

Pastoral dam with Brolgas

Non-breeding daytime feeding areas are also varied: on farms, other rural lands, saline or brackish mudflats and estuaries. Some feeding areas 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.

Brolgas at roost

↑ On the Atherton Tablelalnds Brolgas often roost in wetlands amongst scattered trees (Sandy Carroll)

Habitat images and videos

L: Brolga in swamp, winter (non-breeding season), Victoria (Michael Todd); R: Brolgas fly up from maize stubble, dry season, Atherton Tablelands (Jan O'Sullivan) ↓

Brolga in swampBrolgas in maize stubble

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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).

Brolga preening Brolga stretching wings Brolgas disputing

Brolga preening at Hasties Swamp, north Qld (Jan O'Sullivan); Brolga stretching wings (P Merritt); Brolgas disputing at edge of territory, Normanton, Gulf Plains (K.S. Gopi Sundar)

Behaviour images and videos

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.

CallsCalling behaviour and playable recordings of Brolga calls, on Ozcranes Crane calls page»

Agonistic behaviour

Some examples of agonistic, or combative/ aggressive behaviour by Brolgas to other species:

[1] NF Stanley et al. (1972). ‘The Brolga bites back.’ Med J Aust Dec. 23 2(26): 1461-1462.

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Next: Brolga FAQ 4»

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