Sarus Crane FAQ 2

This page covers food, drinking, nesting and development. Features, locations and population numbers are in FAQ 1, and an introduction to Brolgas and Sarus Cranes with comparison photos and calls is in Ozcranes Cranes Intro.


Like Brolgas, Sarus Cranes are omnivorous, eating many foods. However there are few feeding records for Australian Sarus. Maize seeds, native plants including grasses, grasshoppers and rats have been recorded, and it's been suggested they may feed on plentiful pipis (small molluscs) along the shores of Lake Tinaroo, Atherton Tableland. There are occasional observations of Sarus Cranes stretching up to take ripe maize kernels from the cob on the edges of fields (C Edwards, J Munro: Atherton Tablelands). Dr John Grant's 20 year study of Sarus Crane foraging on the Atherton Tablelands shows they feed preferentially on maize stubble, then plough, low-grazed pasture, and occasionally sugar cane trash.

Sarus Crane in hayfield Sarus Crane picking at rice

↑ L: Atherton Tablelands, Sarus Crane hunting invertebrates in hayfield (Sandy Carroll); R: India, Sarus Crane pecking rice grains from the stalks (K.S. Gopi Sundar)

↓ Gulf of Carpentaria. L: Sarus subadult foraging on edge of borrow pit, Miranda Downs. R: Sarus Crane and juvenile hunting in borrow pit, Gilbert River (K.S. Gopi Sundar)

Sarus subadult foraging Sarus Crane and juvenile hunting

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Sarus Cranes drink and bathe every morning and evening and often also during the day. Unlike Brolgas they have no specialised gland for excreting salt, but some Eastern Sarus Cranes roost in saline wetlands and Indian Sarus sometimes feed on beaches and would ingest some salt from prey. Sarus Cranes have been seen on the beach at Karumba, Queensland (J Grant). There appear to be no published observations of Australian Sarus drinking, to document whether they drink brackish as well as fresh water.

Photographs of Australian Sarus Cranes drinking are rare. L: Walking away after drinking at cattle trough, Bromfield Swamp farm (L Fisher); R: Drinking on the edge of Lake Tinaroo, a major impoundment (Sandy Carroll). Both on the Atherton Tablelands, far north Queensland.

Sarus Cranes drinking Sarus Cranes drinking

Indian Sarus Crane shaking and stretching wings to dry off after bathing (K.S. Gopi Sundar)

Sarus Crane drying Sarus Cranedrying

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Nests and eggs

As with Brolgas, nesting is not colonial, but there is little information on Australian Sarus breeding. One published study [1] for the Gulf of Carpentaria found that territories were 50-80ha. Nests were a heaped mound of vegetation near or in the water, often in swampy woodland with scattered trees. Brolgas in the same area mostly chose more open sites. One Australian Sarus nest has been measured (212 cm diameter) [2]. Sarus lay 1-4 (usually 2) eggs, 100mm x 62mm, weighing 182-214g. Both sexes incubate, hatching is in about 30 days (overseas data). Chicks leave the nest, swim and start feeding themselves at only 1-2 days old.

[1] 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. (Download from Ozcranes Downloads»)
[2] LH Walkinshaw (1973). Cranes of the world. New York, Winchester.

Sarus Crane chick with egg Australian Sarus Crane egg

Indian Sarus Crane chick, the second egg is pipping (India, K.S. Gopi Sundar); Australian Sarus Crane egg (MHNT, Muséum de Toulouse, see Sidebar)

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Both parents brood and guard the young, and give them extra food for several months. It's been assumed that the young (like Brolgas) are fully-feathered at around 14 weeks and can fly soon after, but there are no Australian data. They stay with their parents for up to 11 months until the next breeding season, and develop full head and leg colouring over the next 2-3 years (view image of first year immature with parent»). The stages of maturity for Indian Sarus are in the image below, full size available here. John Grant has recorded the stages for Australian Sarus, including older immatures in the field. It's assumed pair bonds – mostly long-term – form while birds are still immature, as overseas, with first successful breeding at about five years old.

Sarus Crane ages

Image by L Shayamal, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Licence

Nest success

In 2005 John Grant published the first and only formal scientific paper so far, on Sarus breeding success» in Australia. Mean recruitment rate for wintering Sarus on the Atherton Tablelands was 6.5%, this study has now covered 20 years. The study and its significance are discussed by K.S. Gopi Sundar in an Ozcranes Research Report, Breeding for Success, a story of the Sarus in Queensland».

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Next: Sarus Crane FAQ 3 | Habitats and behaviour»

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