Bird Photography Challenge #39: The Brolga

The Brolga (Grus rubicunda) is the only endemic crane in Australia and is known for spectacular dance displays by both sexes during breeding season. This stately bird being usually seen in the tropics, it was quite a surprise to come across it in Victoria. and although the photographs were taken 12 to 18 months ago, it is well worth making this distinctive crane the feature of our #39 Bird Photography Challenge.

What does it look like?

BrolgaThe Brolga is a large crane with a featherless red head and grey crown and a black dewlap under the chin.  Its plumage is mainly grey with black wing tips.  It has a long slender neck and a large beak. The tall legs are charcoal grey.

How does it behave?

The Brolga primarily feeds on tubers of sedges which it digs up from underground with its bill.   It also eats some grain, and being omnivorous, it will also take mice, insects, mollusks and frogs.  The nest is a large mound of vegetation on a small island in a shallow waterway.  Both sexes incubate the eggs and care for the young.

Brolgas mate for life and the bond between pairs is strengthened during elaborate courtship displays which involve much dancing, leaping, wing-flapping and loud trumpeting.

Did you know?

The dance begins with a pair of birds picking up grass, tossing it into the air and catching it again. This is followed by them repeatedly leaping a metre into the air with wings outstretched, stretching their necks upwards, bowing to one another, bobbing their heads, walking about and calling.  Sometimes the dance is done alone or in a group, with the birds lining up opposite one another.

Where is it found?

The Brolga frequents large open wetlands, grassy plains and coastal mudflats and is widespread in Australia’s tropical north. It is also found through central areas of the continent, where the species is considered secure.  Occasionally it is also seen in central New South Wales and Western Victoria however there it has been declared vulnerable.  Numbers dropped significantly because of the drainage of suitable habitat for agriculture and land reclamation.

So I was absolutely stunned to come across Brolgas at the Port Phillip Bay Western Shoreline, part of Melbourne Waters Wetlands some 18 months ago.  They were walking along a track, as I was exploring that part of the wetlands, and stayed for a while, then took off!

All images were taken with a Canon 60D and 400mm lens, hand held. Click on any image in the gallery to display in full screen.

16 thoughts on “Bird Photography Challenge #39: The Brolga

  1. I adore cranes. Last summer I had the opportunity to visit the International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin USA and saw a Brolga crane up close. Wonderful photos and I’m sure it was a special treat to see this bird in the wild.

  2. Some good looking sorts move around the country to dance, great shots you give us,many thanks.

  3. I am really glad these birds have been seen in Victoria… a bit like the Magpie Geese; once common but now extremely rare. We were recently at Barolin Nature Reserve between Mon Repos and Bargara (on the coast east of Bundaberg in QLD) and the interpretation board makes a note that the ‘native companion’ (Brolga) was once a feature of this landscape. Sadly not so now. The greatest sight I had of them was in the wetland areas above Normanton in north western Queensland in 2012 – here you have to use the binoculars to check if you are looking at Brolgas or Sarus Cranes; both species can be (and were) at the same place at the same time (Sarus cranes have more red on their necks). As usual Chris, love the posts. Cheers Trish

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