Now they are rarely seen but do pop up on the island from time to time. When there is water at Bishop’s Marsh on the road to Toorbul Brolgas are often seen in the water or feeding in the nearby grass. Brolgas are tall, graceful, grey cranes standing up to 1.5 m with a wingspan of around 2 m and are one of Australia’s largest flying birds. Their most noticeable feature is the red band across their featherless heads. They have dark gular pouches under their bill and yellow eyes.
Featured image(above): Note red band, dark gular pouch, and long strong bill.
Male and female are similar with the female smaller weighing about 6 kg while the male is around 7 kg. Neck and legs are Not long ago before the Banksia Beach development Brolgas were fairly common around that area on outstretched when in flight which is an awesome sight to witness. They are also very comfortable soaring high in the thermals. Lifespan is thought to be around seven years.
There are only two Crane species in Australia, the other being the Saris Cranes which look very much like Brolgas but have a much wider red band which extends down past their necks. Saris Cranes have been in Australia for thousands of years but were only discovered in the 1960s in the Northern regions of Australia. In John Gould’s book “Birds of Australia” which was published in 1865 The Brolga was referred to as the “Australian Crane”. Habitats can be very diverse from tropical, arid, pastoral, sometimes at river mouths and in mangroves but they are usually found somewhere near water.
In the North of Australia, huge flocks of up to 20,000 birds will gather near water during the dry season and will fly off in pairs to nest when it rains. They are not migratory as such but will travel great distances to different places to be near water. Brolgas feed on bulbs and aquatic vegetation, molluscs, insects, amphibians, mice, and seeds including grain crops. Their bills are used to dig food from the ground.
Brolga Bishops March
They feed in swamps and on grasslands and in cultivated areas. Not long ago they were shot or poisoned by some farmers because of the damage they caused to their crops. During breeding season pairs will put on a wonderful dancing display with heads high, trumpeting loudly and often jumping a metre into the air with wings outstretched. This dancing routine not only occurs during courting but can happen at any time of the year. It is not known why they dance but is an amazing sight to see. August to December is the usual breeding season and the pairs mate for life.
Sites are chosen with good views in all directions. Most nests are large mounds of grass and reeds and are up to 1.5 m in diameter and built in swamps in water to about 30cm deep. They are built from the bottom upward making sure that the eggs will be above water level. Other nests are built on land but close to water. Two white eggs 94x60mm with brownish markings is the usual clutch size.
Eggs are incubated by both parents for about a month and both parents tend to the nestlings. Young chicks leave the nest and begin to feed themselves within 1-2 days and can fly off after about 14 weeks. In captivity, Brolgas and Saris Cranes have been known to interbreed but it is not known if this happens in the wild. There are several Aboriginal legends pertaining to Brolgas. One is that a young girl who loved to dance was turned into a Brolga. Many Aboriginal dances are based on the graceful portrayal of the Brolga’s dance movements.
The Gamilaraay Aboriginal word “Burralga” has been adapted to “Brolga” in the English form. Threats to Brolgas come in the form of increased agriculture, wetland drainage for agriculture and development, feral pigs in the north and foxes in the south. Sometimes their dance routine is used to scare off predators. Conservation status varies from state to state. Northern areas of Qld, NT, and WA are secure while in NSW, Vic and SA numbers are declining and they have become vulnerable. Since 1986 several large properties in NW New South Wales have been made safe havens for Brolgas. Their habitat is being looked after and feral animals removed to try and rejuvenate declining numbers.