Brolga and Sarus Crane calls

Bird calls fulfill a wide range of communication functions between individuals and groups of the same species, or in interactions with other species. On this page Ozcranes looks at the types of crane calls and their functions, with an intriguing musical connection to violins rather than the obvious impression of ‘trumpeting’ or ‘bugling’ calls. By courtesy of recorders and others, we present a range of Brolga and Sarus Crane calls recorded in Australia that can be played from this page, as well as links to other sites with relevant audio or video examples.

Crane calls

Brolga calling

Brolga takes flight, calling (Birds as Poetry) ↑

All crane calls are innate (‘hard-wired’, not learned from others or affected by environment). Some are soft, communicating information over short distances: these include contact, stress and food-begging calls of chicks, and purring sounds made by adults while feeding. In contrast the famous unison call or duet by a mated pair, can be heard 2-3 kilometres away [1], [2].

Types of crane calls, their volume and distance

Contact calls (differ by age) Short-soft
Chick stress, food begging Short-soft
Flight intention Soft-short
Flight landing and take-off Long-loud
Purrs during flight Soft-short
Alarm Long-loud
Unison (‘duet’) and Guard Long-loud
Location Short-soft
Pre-copulation Short-soft
Nesting Short-soft
Growl, aggressive with display Short-soft

Compiled from references [1] and [2]

Trumpets, bugles or violins?

Cranes enhance the volume of long-distance calls with a coiled trachea that resonates in the sternum. Coiled trachea and sternum of male Sarus Crane (from Edward Blyth (1881), The Natural History of the Cranes)

Sarus trachea

The loud calls are known as trumpeting, or bugling, in fact the International Crane Foundation has a regular magazine called ‘The Bugle’. But is this analogy accurate? Abbott Gaunt and team [3] examined call function in several species and found that loud calls are produced by a process similar to sound in a stringed instrument, not a wind instrument: violins, not bugles...

The tracheal coils that are embedded in the sternum serve a function analogous to the bridge of a stringed instrument, transmitting the vibrations of a tiny sound source to a large radiating surface, the sternum. The sternum then vibrates against the large internal air reservoir of the avian airsac system. As it has a complex shape, the sternum will have many resonances and will respond to many frequencies; as a solid oscillator, its resonances will not be greatly affected by low density gases. Hence, we suggest that cranes and other birds with enlarged windpipes are more properly analogized with a violin than a trombone.

Young cranes transition from juvenile to adult calls during their first year, with a distinct ‘voice break’ at around nine months, when they separate from their parents before the next breeding season [1], [4]. The unison call between mated pairs is similar in related species, for example the unison calls of Brolga, Sarus Crane, White-naped Crane and (more distantly) Sandhill Crane, are similar in structure [1].

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Brolga calls

Brolga unison call

Brolga unison call, New South Wales (P Merritt) ↑

Calls on Ozcranes

Part of Brolga call, courtesy F. van Gessel, north Queensland (F. van Gessel)
Three Brolgas taking flight, Mackay, north Queensland. Recording by R Buckingham, August 1985 (courtesy L MacPherson)
Brolgas at 7am, Townsville Town Common, north Queensland. Recording by J Neville, 7am 26 August 1973 (courtesy L MacPherson)
Newly-hatched Brolga chicks, Yeppoon, Queensland. Recording by H Pollock, 1961 (courtesy L MacPherson)

External links

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Sarus Crane calls

Sarus duet

Sarus Crane unison call in ricefield, Uttar Pradesh, India (K.S. Gopi Sundar) ↑

Calls on Ozcranes

Sarus Crane flight calls, dusk landing at Bromfield Swamp Malanda, far north Queensland. Recording by RJ Swaby, September 1983 (courtesy L MacPherson). For the story of this recording see Reference [5].
Sarus Crane flight calls, early departure Bromfield Swamp Malanda, far north Queensland. Recording by RJ Swaby, September 1983 (courtesy L MacPherson). For the story of this recording see Reference [5].
Sarus unison call, Dunbar Station, Gulf Plains, NW Queensland. Recording by K.S. Gopi Sundar, April 2019.
Sarus pair alarm call, Dunbar Station, Gulf Plains, NW Queensland. Recording by K.S. Gopi Sundar, May 2019.
Part of Sarus Crane call, north Qeensland (courtesy F. van Gessel)

External links


[1] Archibald, George W. (1976). ‘The Unison Call of Cranes as a Useful Taxonomic Tool’. PhD, Cornell.
[2] Nesbitt, Stephen A., and Richard A. Bradley (1996). ‘Vocalizations of Sandhill Cranes’ Paper presented at the Seventh North American Crane Workshop, Biloxi, MS.
[3] Gaunt, AS, SLL Gaunt, HD Prange, and JS Wasser (1987). ‘The Effects of Tracheal Coiling on the Vocalizations of Cranes (Aves; Gruidae)’ Journal of Comparative Physiology A 161, no. 1: 43-58.
[4] Klenova, Anna V., Ilya A. Volodin, Elena V. Volodina, and Kirill A. Postelnykh (2010). ‘Voice Breaking in Adolescent Red-Crowned Cranes (Grus Japonensis)’ Behaviour 147: 505-24
[5] Swaby, Ray J (1983). ‘Tape Recording Sarus Cranes’ The Bird Observer, no. 622: 93-94

More: Sarus Crane FAQ 2 | Breeding»

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