The Brolga (Grus rubicunda), formerly known as the “˜Native Companion’, is a species of bird found in tropical and eastern Australia. The bird has also been given the name “Australian Crane”, a term coined in 1865 by well-known ornithological artist John Gould in his Birds of Australia. These birds are abundant in north and northeast Australia, especially Queensland. They are also common as far south as Victoria. They are also found in New Guinea and rarely in New Zealand. They are also rarely found in western Australia. The global population is estimated at between 20,000 and 100,000 individuals. The species is non-migratory, but some movement occurs in response to seasonal rains.
The adult Brolga is 3.3 to 4.3 feet in length with a wingspan of 5.6 to 7.9 feet, and weighs between 8.1 and 19.2 pounds. Males are larger than females. The plumage is mid-gray to silver-gray with a broad red band extending from the straight, bone-colored bill around the back of the head. Juveniles do not have the red band seen in adults. The Brolga can be easily mistaken for the Sarus Crane, however the red band on the Sarus Crane extends partly down the neck while it is confined to the head on the Brolga.
Brolgas are omnivorous and eat a variety of wetland plants, insects, invertebrates, and small vertebrates such as frogs. They also eat wetland and upland plants, seeds, mollusks, and crustaceans. Northern Australian populations of Brolga are fond of the tubers of the bulkuru sedge which they dig holes to extract.
Brolgas have intricate mating dances that begin with a bird picking up some grass and tossing it into the air, catching it with its bill, then jumping into the air with outstretched wings, then stretching, bowing, walking, calling, and bobbing its head. Usually just one Brolga dances for its mate, but they sometimes also dance in pairs, and sometimes up to a dozen may dance together, lining up opposite each other before starting.
Brolgas live in small social family structures of 3 or 4 birds, usually parents together with their offspring, though some groups are non-familial (not of same family). They gather in large flocks outside of the breeding season, which are actually large groups of family units rather than single birds. Families tend to remain separate and coordinate their activities with one another rather than the flock as a whole.
The time of breeding depends largely on when the rainy weather comes and usually takes place between February and May after the monsoons have subsided. In southern Australia breeding takes place between September and December. Mating pairs establish nesting territories in wetland habitat. Nests can be close together, and may be in the same area as those of the Sarus Crane. The nest is built by both sexes and consists of sticks, uprooted grass, and other plant material. It is located on a small island, in standing water or occasionally floating. Sometimes mud and roots are used for nest building when grass is scarce. Old swan nests are also sometimes used, and the Brolga will even lay on the ground. The female lays two (or often, one – three) white eggs that are sparsely spotted or blotched with reddish brown. The eggs and young are guarded by both parents. The young hatch after 30 days and can leave the nest within a day or two. They have body feathers within 4 to 5 weeks, and are fully feathered after three months. They take flight a few weeks after that. The parents will guard the young for up to 11 months, or sometimes up to 2 years if they do not re-nest.
Brolgas are not listed as threatened on the Australian
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. However, their conservation status varies from state to state within Australia. The Brolga is listed as threatened on the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988). On the 2007 advisory list of threatened vertebrate fauna in Victoria, the Brolga is listed as vulnerable.