Sarus Crane FAQ 3

This page covers Sarus Crane habitats and behaviour, including interactions with Brolgas. Features, locations and population numbers are in FAQ 1, food, water and breeding are in FAQ 2, and conservation is covered in FAQ 4. The Cranes Intro has background and comparisons including images and calls.


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 usually leave at dawn to feed in nearby farmland, but may loaf at the roost site for 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.

Atherton Tableland Gulf wetland Wetland

L: View from Hallorans Hill, Atherton. 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). C: Gulf of Carpentaria wetland with flooded grass and scattered trees, typical Sarus Crane breeding habitat (John Grant). R: Small Cape York wetland (cranesnorth)

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Sarus vs. Brolga habitats

Brolgas are adapted to dry habitats provided water exists, even occupying some desert regions as well as higher rainfall areas (see map in Brolga FAQ 1»). All Australian Sarus Cranes however, live in wet or seasonally wet regions in the northern tropics (see maps in Ozcranes Crane Intro»). Brolgas occur throughout the range of Australian Sarus but based on records so far, seem to use a wider variety of habitats with Sarus found mainly in swamp woodlands, swamps, croplands and grasslands.

Gulf woodland Gulf swamp

Sarus Cranes in seasonally-flooded savannah woodlands, Gulf of Carpentaria: the only known major breeding habitat for Australian Sarus (K.S. Gopi Sundar)


In Asia, most Sarus Cranes breed in cultivated rice (more in Cranes on Farms 2»). Breeding habitat in the Gulf of Carpentaria is in different types of flooded grassy woodlands or savannah. Many (though not all) Sarus Crane pairs apparently choose different habitat types for their nest sites than Brolgas, however some are found close to Brolga pairs in other habitat types. For more detail and references see Sarus FAQ2 and John Grant's article on his ongoing Gulf study».

Indian Sarus show high nest site fidelity [1], returning year after year to nest in the same place. Offspring also return to nest close to their birthplace, sometimes many years later. in Uttar Pradesh, a 1-month old male Indian Sarus Crane was banded at the nest by KS Gopi Sundar in 2001. Fourteen years later the bird returned, paired and established a nesting territory within 500m of the original nest. In Australia, no Sarus Cranes have been tracked so these factors are unknown.

[1] A Mukherjee et al. 2000. Nest and eggs of sarus crane (Grus antigone antigone Linn.). Zoos Print Journal 15(12): 375-385.

Non-breeding (‘flocking’) season

In mixed non-breeding season flocks one species usually predominates, but as yet there are no data on why Brolgas concentrate in some dry season locations while Sarus concentrate in others. Even where mixed flocks forage during the day, the two species may choose different roost sites to spend the night. One example is the regular occurrence of feeding Sarus Cranes in the drier outer parts of the Atherton Tablelands, e.g. Kaban and Tumoulin, while roosts in these locations are almost exclusively used by Brolgas (see Ozcranes Research NQ Crane Counts»). A significant PhD study is now underway on Brolga/Sarus Crane interactions and habitat differences in northern Queensland.

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↓ Sarus Cranes in threat display, Miranda Downs, Gulf of Carpentaria (K.S. Gopi Sundar). Taken in early evening light. The encounter probably occurred on the territory boundary between two pairs. (1) The pairs ‘face off’, turning their backs on each other. A few moments later (2) the two males (R and L) are in ‘exaggerated walk’ pose and one female (C) is ‘displacement preening’. Both pairs then unison called and the intruding pair flew away.

Sarus Cranes threat Sarus Cranes threat

↓ Sarus Crane family preening, Sarus pair displaying: Atherton Tablelands (Sandy Carroll)

Sarus Crane preening Sarus dancing

Behaviour compared with Brolgas There have been no systematic studies of crane behaviour in Australia, and for Sarus Cranes we even have few observations. Roost behaviour, unison calling, pairbonding and dance displays are believed similar to Brolgas» and other Sarus (see links below). Flight behaviour for both species is covered in Ozcranes Flight Gallery»

Behavioural interactions with Brolgas 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 [1].

[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 article from Ozcranes Downloads»

Interactions with peopleIn India and Nepal, Sarus Cranes nest mostly in irrigated rice and live in close proximity to people. Very little is known about Sarus-human interactions in Australia, though observers and photographers agree that Sarus seem more wary and prone to flight than Brolgas in similar conditions.

VIDEOS (Youtube):

Sarus-Brolga hybrids

On his 1972 visit to the Atherton Tablelands, renowned crane researcher Dr George Archibald observed apparent hybrids between Brolga and Sarus Crane and collected a specimen. His paper on the ‘Sarolga’ can be downloaded from Ozcranes Downloads». In the following years there were more reports and Dr John Grant in particular, scrutinised flocks to detect unusual plumage or feature combinations. Tim Nevard's PhD study linked above includes an investigation of potential hybridisation using genetic analyses of blood samples and more than a thousand feathers, his Ozcranes page includes hybrid photographs. Some additional notes are in Knowledge Gaps 2».

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Next: Sarus FAQ 4»

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