Sarus Crane FAQ 3
This page covers Sarus Crane habitats, behaviour and conservation, including interactions with Brolgas. Size, calls, locations and population numbers are in FAQ 1, and food, drinking and breeding are in FAQ 2. Background to Brolgas and Sarus Cranes with comparison photos is on Ozcranes Australia/New Guinea Cranes Intro page.
← View from volcanic cone Halloran's Hill, Atherton, far north Queensland. The surrounding ‘golden triangle’ of fertile basalt soil supports maize, peanuts, cattle pasture and more recently sugar cane. On average 1,700 Sarus Cranes feed here during the non-breeding season, and the large water storage (Lake Tinaroo) provides daytime rest sites and night roosts (G & J Holmes)
Sarus Cranes need water every day and always roost beside or in shallow water at night. On the Atherton Tableland, far north Queensland, non-breeding flocks may leave at dawn to feed in nearby farmland, but sometimes loaf at the roost site for long periods during the day. Feeding may continue after nightfall with surveys recording cranes (presumed Sarus on the basis of birds already counted in daylight) arriving at many roosts after dark. Since counts began in 1997, Sarus Cranes have deserted particular roosts after (and presumably due to): water levels raised in private storages; cattle removed and site overgrown with long grass (tropical pasture species 1-1.8m); tree-planting; and suburban development on lake shore.
← Gulf of Carpentaria wetland with flooded grass and scattered trees, where Brolgas and Sarus Cranes form mixed post-breeding flocks, soon after the young can fly (John Grant)
In northern Australia Brolgas co-exist with Sarus Cranes, but based on records so far, Brolgas use a much wider variety of habitats with Sarus found mainly in swamp woodlands, swamps and grasslands. At breeding sites, Sarus Cranes apparently have differing nest site preferences. In mixed non-breeding season flocks one species usually predominates, but as yet there is no rule of thumb about Brolga Dry season habitat selection compared with Sarus Cranes. On the broad basis of ‘wetter’ vs. ‘drier’ habitat, some surveys show no apparent difference; in other instances Brolgas are found in wetter sites or districts and Sarus drier ones; other surveys show Brolgas using drier habitats than Sarus. (This explains the conflicting habitat accounts in popular bird field guides). There's a lot of complexity to be sorted out to improve our understanding of Brolga/ Sarus Crane habitat differences and interactions in northern Australia.
← Young Sarus Crane preening at Hasties Swamp, north Qld (Jan O'Sullivan)
← Sarus dance among Tableland maize stubble, N Qld (Sandy Carroll)
Height is a significant factor in establishing dominance among cranes. In non-breeding feeding flocks Sarus, being on average slightly taller, may ‘crowd out’ nearby Brolgas, effectively staring them down till they move several metres away. At one major non-breeding season roost, Bromfield Swamp on the Atherton Tableland, over 200 Brolgas roost with up to 800 Sarus Cranes, but some observers report the Brolgas arrive earlier to roost, and stay longer on site in the morning. On the breeding grounds in NW Qld, Sarus pairs aggressively defend their nest site against nearby Brolgas, other Sarus and also other large birds like swans. There is often speculation, but as yet no evidence, that Brolgas and Sarus Cranes have been hybridising in the wild in northern Australia.
For images of Sarus Cranes and Brolgas taking off, landing and in flight, see Ozcranes Flight Gallery ».
Definitely check out Brolga FAQ 3» on roost behaviour, unison calls, pairbonding and dance displays which also apply to Sarus Cranes. There you'll also find threats from wetland drainage and (possibly) wild pigs, too.
The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000 included Sarus Cranes, but at the lowest level ‘Least Concern’. This is now being questioned due to new information on low annual recruitment rates as well as the apparently restricted nest habitat and nesting locations for Australian Sarus.
More.. Secrets of the Sarus Crane» Researcher John Grant writes on the intriguing history of Australian Sarus and efforts to understand their biology and ecology.