Sarus Crane FAQ 1

The Sarus Crane Grus antigone was first officially identified in Australia in 1966, inspiring interesting and differing ideas about their origins, history and ecology. Here in Sarus Crane FAQs Part 1, Ozcranes looks at features, size, location and numbers. An introduction to Brolgas and Sarus Cranes including comparison photos and calls, is in Ozcranes Australia/New Guinea Cranes Intro.

Sarus Crane


Male Sarus Crane, Gulf of Carpentaria (P Merritt) →

Sarus Cranes are large, tall and stately with long, pink legs and paler, less grey plumage than the Brolga. The crown is grey, compared with the Brolga's grey-green colouring. Bare red skin extends down the upper part of the neck. There is no dewlap or pouch, but short bristly dark feathers cover part of the throat and round the head. Sarus are taller, but on average weight is slightly less, than for Brolga (see Ozcranes Crane Intro page). Like other cranes, Sarus have a raised, reduced hind toe and the long claw of the inner toe is used for fighting. View closeup image of Sarus Crane foot, at a zoo in the Netherlands.

Sarus Cranes have a very wide wingspan, reaching 2.5m. This creates risks from fences and powerlines, see Ozcranes Crane friendly fencing and Crane Hazard pages.

Sarus crane foot, from Edward Blyth (1881) The Natural History of the Cranes.

Sarus foot


↓ Sarus Crane adult and immature with Droughtmaster, a medium to large Australian tropical cattle breed. Atherton Tablelands, far north Queensland (Ian Montgomery)

Sarus Cranes with cattle

There are three living forms of Sarus Crane, but to date there is no genetic evidence for separate sub-species [1]. The South Asian or Indian Sarus is the tallest flying bird in the world, with height to 1.8m. Unlike other forms it has a ‘collar’ of white feathers on the neck, below the very bright red bare skin. Eastern Sarus Cranes are found in South East Asia, now mainly in Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar. The males are almost as tall as the Indian form, but greyer. Australian Sarus are similar in appearance to those in SE Asia, but smaller and lighter [2]. Genetic studies indicate it's more than 30,000 years [3] since Australian Sarus Cranes interbred with Sarus from SE Asia, and there is no known migration of Australian Sarus outside northern Australia. For more on Sarus outside Australia see Ozcranes Sarus Cranes in Asia» page.

Male Sarus are slightly larger than females. Australian Sarus are slightly larger than Brolgas, but on average lighter in weight.

[1] KL Jones et al. (2005). ‘Geographical partitioning of microsatellite variation in the sarus crane’ Animal Conservation 8(1): 1-8
[2] GW Archibald et al. (2003). ‘A review of the three subspecies of sarus cranes Grus antigone.’ Journal of Ecological Society 15: 5-15. This reference can be downloaded free from
[3] TC Wood & C Krajewski (1996). ‘Mitochondrial DNA sequence variation among the subspecies of Sarus Crane (Grus antigone).’ Auk 113: 655-663.

VIDEOS (Youtube):

top TOP


As outlined in Ozcranes Crane Intro, the number of Australian Sarus is uncertain. The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000 [4] (read or download on Ozcranes), suggests an estimate of 10,000 breeding birds (5,000 pairs), not including immatures and other non-breeding birds. The only known significant non-breeding congregation of Sarus Cranes in Australia is on the Atherton Tablelands, far north Queensland, and nearby hinterland. It's assumed that these birds breed in the Gulf of Carpentaria and migrate northeast for the Dry season, but this has not been proven. The only reliable counts are around 1200-3000 in non-breeding flocks on the Atherton Tablelands (E Scambler unpublished data to 2008). This represents an unknown proportion of the total population, and researchers studying the Gulf area (J Grant, T Nevard: see Ozcranes Research) believe most of the Australian population remains in the Gulf year-round. G Archibald's 1984 breeding study in the Gulf [5] and John Grant's Gulf surveys suggest this region has one of the highest crane breeding densities in the world, further surveys are planned.

References 4 and 5 are available free in Ozcranes Downloads»:

[4] ST Garnett & GM Crowley, Eds. (2000). ‘The Action Plan for Australian birds 2000’. Canberra ACT, Environment Australia
[5] GW Archibald & SR Swengel (1987). ‘Comparative ecology and behavior of eastern Sarus Cranes and Brolgas in Australia’ Proceedings of the 1985 Crane Workshop, ed. JC Lewis: 107-116.

top TOP


Australian Sarus Cranes are mostly found in far northern Queensland and adjacent districts of the Northern Territory (see map in Ozcranes Crane Introduction). The non-breeding Dry season population of the Atherton Tablelands is by far the most accessible for observers. Fields along Tablelands roads are worth exploring from about May through to early November. The spectacular sight of tens or hundreds of Australian Sarus flying into roosts can be viewed during this period from several locations accessible to the public, all provide good views of the roosting cranes, and all are longterm survey sites for annual Crane Counts». One-off counts are valuable data and can be contributed to a number of databases».

L: Bromfield Swamp viewing platform, Malanda; C: Hasties Swamp, Atherton; R: Pandanus Lagoon, Mareeba Wetlands. Bromfield and Hasties are available at any time. Mareeba Wetlands Reserve closes for the northern Wet season Jan-March, see the website for details on visitor access and activities April-Dec. (all images by cranesnorth)

Brolga Sarus Crane Young Brolga

Next: Sarus Crane FAQ 2 | Food, drinking, nesting»

« Back to Brolga & Sarus Crane Introduction

top TOP

Change AT to @ and DOT to . in email addresses