International Crane Foundation



Grus rubicunda

HEIGHT: ~161 cm, 5 ft
WEIGHT: ~6 kg, 13 lbs
WINGSPAN: ~180 cm, 6 ft
POPULATION: ~20,000 – 100,000
TREND: Declining
STATUS: IUCN: LC; Cites Appendix II


A salt gland located near the eye allows the Brolga to excrete a concentrated salt solution from the saltwater they drink.


Adult Brolgas have a bare crown covered with greenish gray skin. The face, cheeks, and pendulous throat pouch are coral red to bright orange up to about the eye. Eye color is orange to yellowish orange. The body plumage is light bluish gray. The primaries are blackish; the secondaries are gray. Legs and toes are black. Males and females are virtually indistinguishable, although males tend to be slightly larger in size.

Juveniles have fully feathered heads that are buffy or gray; eyes are dark brown, and legs are dark gray. Adult eye color is attained at two to three years of age, when grayish green skin also appears on the crown. Download FREE Brogla images.


The Brolga occurs throughout northern and eastern Australia and in limited areas of New Guinea. Range wide surveys of the species have not been undertaken, so population estimates and trends are poorly understood. The Brolga still occupies much of its historic range. Brolgas are non-migratory, but move in response to seasonal rains.


Click to view range map.


Northern populations of Brolgas are concentrated during the dry season in coastal freshwater wetlands, where they subsist on the tubers of the bulkuru sedge. In the wet season, they disperse to breeding territories in freshwater and brackish marshes, wet meadows, and other seasonal wetlands. Although the wet and dry seasons in southern Australia are less marked, southern Brolga populations also move between wet season breeding territories and traditional dry season flocking areas. Brolgas are perhaps the most opportunistic of cranes. They are variable in terms of habitat selection and have developed physiological and behavioral adaptations to Australia’s diverse and extreme climatic conditions, especially its rainfall patterns.

Mated pairs of cranes, including Brolgas, engage in unison calling, which is a complex and extended series of coordinated calls. The birds stand in a specific posture, usually with their heads thrown back and beaks skyward during the display. The male always lifts up his wings over his back during the unison call while the female keeps her wings folded at her sides. Brolga males usually initiate the display and the female utters two calls for each male call. All cranes also engage in dancing, which includes various behaviors such as bowing, jumping, running, stick or grass tossing, and wing flapping. Dancing can occur at any age and is commonly associated with courtship, however, it is generally believed to be a normal part of motor development for crane s and can serve to thwart aggression, relieve tension, and strengthen the pair bond.

Breeding season in northern Australia begins as water levels rise during periods of heavy rainfall. Brolgas in southern Australia are less influenced by heavy rains. They nest and forage in shallow freshwater marshes and wet meadows, but their clutch size and incubation are the same. Nests are large mounds of grass and sedge stems, built in densely vegetated wetlands. Females usually lay two eggs and incubation (by both sexes) lasts 28-31 days. The male takes the primary role in defending the nest against possible danger. Chicks fledge (first flight) at about 100 days.


All cranes are omnivorous. Brolgas in northern Australia gather in large flocks and dig holes in the drying mud to extract bulkuru tubers, the main item in their dry season diet. They also eat wetland plants, upland plants and grains, insects, mollusks, crustaceans, and frogs. Bulkuru sedge is not available to Brolgas south of Brisbane. Their diet is varied including a wide range of plants, invertebrates, and small vertebrates.


The most significant threat to the Brolga across its range is the loss and degradation of wetlands. In northern Australia, wetlands are extensively degraded as a result of heavy livestock grazing, disruption of hydrological processes, and changes in vegetation. In the south, loss of wetlands to drainage and reclamation for agriculture is probably the main factor behind the dramatic decline in the number of Brolgas occurring there. Other threats include the subdivision and fencing of large private landholdings, predation by the introduced red fox, incidental poisoning, and collisions with utility lines.

ICF in Action

In an effort to establish a captive population of breeding Brolgas, Dr. George Archibald received a permit in 1972 to capture three pairs of wild Brolgas in Australia and import them to the U.S. He traveled to the Gibson Desert in western Australia and captured four Brolgas. In 1984, ICF collected and imported 12 Brogla eggs from wild nests in Australia for the captive breeding program. ICF is the only institution in North America to successfully breed Brolgas.

In 1994, ICF wetland ecologist Rich Beilfuss traveled to Australia with four Vietnamese colleagues to familiarize the Vietnamese with the ecology and hydrology of the floodplain wetlands of tropical Australia as a model for wetland restoration at Tram Chim, Vietnam and elsewhere in the Mekong Delta. Another goal of the trip was to establish ongoing scientific cooperation between Vietnam and Australia.

Species accounts derived from: Johnsgard PA. 1983. Cranes of the world. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Meine CD, Archibald GW. 1996. The cranes: status survey and conservation action plan. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.