Cranes and hailstorms

At least four species of cranes have been recorded as killed or severely injured in hailstorms, in India, the USA and Australia. Although these are natural events they are a conservation issue if they impact a threatened species, or a large number of birds in a local population. On this page, Ozcranes looks at events affecting different species and two historical records from Australia overlooked in previous literature. For other natural and introduced hazards for Brolgas and Sarus Cranes in Australia see Crane Hazards 1», and Crane Hazards 2».

Hailstones by S Ohlsen (licence details in Sidebar). At least four species of cranes, including Brolgas Antigone rubicunda in Australia, have been killed by hail storms ↓



Large hailstones are often described in sporting terms as ‘golf ball’ or ‘baseball’ size. A golf ball is 43mm in diameter; a baseball, 73-75mm. Both are formidable projectiles when raining down as a short or prolonged shower. Media reports often focus on people's main concerns, thousands of dollars in damaged homes, vehicles and crops. But there are wildlife impacts as well.

Brolgas and hailstorms

There are two historical records of Brolgas killed by hailstorms, sourced from archived newspapers at Trove.

From ‘The Worker’ newspaper, Brisbane, 25 January 1933, a storm near Inverell on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales (note, the Byron referred to is an old township at Inverelll, not the coastal Byron familiar to tourists).

A fierce hailstorm in the Inverell district last Thursday stripped fruit trees and destroyed melon crops. Near Clinton hail drifts had to be cleared from the railway lines to permit the trains to run. At Byron two horses were killed and cattle stunned. Four dead brolgas were found nearby.

Brolga near Winton, Qld

← Brolga near Winton, central western Queensland (Graham Winterflood: licence in Sidebar).

From the ‘Townsville Daily Bulletin’, 11 December 1937, a storm at Winton in central western Queensland. The ‘turkeys’ referred to would have been Australian Bustards, Ardeotis australis, colloquially known as the Plains Turkey.

Particulars have been received of a hail storm of exceptional intensity, which fell approximately 10 miles North of Winton last Friday week. Pursuing a course about three miles in width, it passed through (three properties). The storm occurred about 3 pm, and was accompanied by a gale, which placed in jeopardy the roof of Cotumnal Homestead. Mr. Westacott was engaged in making this secure for some time, but on mounting the stand of a high service tank later, he observed that the whole countryside to the east was white, and came to the conclusion it was hail.

This was confirmed next morning, when an inspection (17 hours after the storm) revealed the creeks holding much water and hail, golf ball size, being common. The trees were stripped of every leaf; a few sheep, young kangaroos, many turkeys, brolgas, and all birds in the path of the storm, were lying dead. Many kangaroos were disfigured and running round in a dazed condition. Heavy casualties were inflicted among budgerigahs, as many as 150 lying dead beneath one tree


In 1970 CSIRO researcher WJM Vestjens, co-author of the classic two-volume book ‘Food of Australian Birds’ was studying the wildlife of Lake Cowal, the largest natural lake in (inland) New South Wales. [1] On November 9th a flock of Straw-necked Ibis were feeding in a paddock near the homestead. A shower of hail with stones up to 25mm swept over the area, followed by a second shower lasting five to seven minutes. Most of the stones were about 65mm long, three measured were 76x52x44, 73x51x32 and 51x44x32. In a nearby paddock a White-faced Heron was found with a broken wing, and seven Straw-necked Ibis had injuries including broken wings, neck and skull.

top TOP

Sandhill Cranes, USA

In August 2019 a major hailstorm killed at least 11,000 birds at the Big Lake Wildlife Management Area, Montana, about 20-30% of water birds at the refuge. Most were ducks and pelicans. Sandhill Cranes nest in Montana or pass through on migration during April to October, but apparently none were present at the time. [5]

Demoiselle Cranes

Thousands of Demoiselle Cranes Grus virgo flock to the Kutch district, Gujarat, in coastal north-west India in winter. In 2019, 56 were killed by a hailstorm and at least 17 injured cranes were taken into care. [6] In 1986, a Demoiselle Crane and a Sarus Crane Antigone antigone were among 2000 birds killed by a hailstorm at the Karera Bustard Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, central India. [7] And in 2014, a staggering 62,000 birds and many mammals (though apparently no cranes) were killed in a series of hailstorms over several months in Maharashtra state, western India. As with the Budgerigars in Winton, Queensland (above), the major casualties were of smaller birds roosting communally in trees. [7]


There is little conservation can do to protect bird populations from weather events such as hail. The Gujarat initiative to take injured birds into care, even though Demoiselles are not threatened, is commendable in terms of animal welfare. Although there is much uncertainty about the possible influence of climate change on the frequency and severity of hailstorms, some scenarios suggest effects could be major for agriculture [8] and presumably, for wildlife including cranes.

top TOP


[1] Vestjens WJM. 1971. Damage to birds by hailstones. Emu 71: 181-2.
[2] Merrill GW. 1991. Loss of 1000 Lesser Sandhill Cranes. Auk 78: 641-2.
[3] Littlefield, CD. 2001. Washington State recovery plan for the Sandhill Crane. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: Olympia, WA.
[4] Higgins KF, Johnson MA. 1978. Avian mortality caused by a September wind and hail storm. The Prairie Naturalist 10: 43-8.
[5] Cappucci M. 2019. Montana hailstorm slaughters 11,000 birds. Washington Post, 21 August 2019.
[6] Anon. 2019. Hailstorm kills 56 demoiselle cranes in Bhachau, Rajkot. Times of India, 16 November 2019.
[7] Narwade S, et al. 2014. Mass mortality of wildlife due to hailstorms in Maharashtra, India. Bird Populations 13: 28-35.
[8] Botzen WJW, Bouwer LM, van den Bergh JCJM. 2010. Climate change and hailstorm damage: Empirical evidence and implications for agriculture and insurance. Resource and Energy Economics 32: 341-362.

top TOP

Ozcranes Conservation home page»

Change AT to @ and DOT to . in email addresses