Brolga: The Ultimate Guide

The brolga (Antigone rubicunda), formerly known as the native companion, is a bird in the crane family. They’re a common, gregarious wetland bird species of tropical and south-eastern Australia and New Guinea.

Appearance

The Brolga is one of the largest flying birds, standing between 1 and 1.3 m tall (3ft 2”- 4ft 2”). Their wingspans are between 1.7 and 2.4 m (5ft 5” – 7ft 8”). Males are often larger than females.

The Brolga is a pale grey color with a noticeable red to orange patch on its head and a black dewlap (a piece of skin) hanging beneath its chin. Brolgas have extremely long grey or sometimes black legs. A typical adult brolga weighs roughly 6kg (13.2 lbs).

Adult brolgas have a naked crown with greenish-grey skin, red skin on the forehead, cheeks, and pendulous throat pouch. Their plumage is light bluish grey to grey. Youngsters have pale grey body feathers, a cinnamon-brown head, and dark brown eyes.

Male Vs Female

It’s almost impossible to distinguish the difference between male and female brolgas. This is because their shape and plumage are practically the same.

However, females tend to be a little bit smaller than males. The only way to confirm the gender of a brolga is to take a look at its anatomy.

Are they aggressive?

Brolgas can be aggressive and will fight if they feel they need to, jumping into the air to swipe an intruder with their claws or spear an opponent with their bill when their nest is endangered while their chicks are present, parents make a broken-wing show as their offspring hide. 

What adaptations do they have?

Brolgas are famous for their elaborate and ritualized dancing. To begin, partners pick up grass, hurl it into the air, and catch it again in their beaks.

The birds then leap up to a meter in the air with their wings outstretched, before putting on an elaborate show of head-bobbing, wing-beating, strutting, and bowing.

Also, the brolga is the only crane species that has evolved to develop a gland in the corners of their eyes. This helps them to pass excess salt, critical for survival. 

Breeding/reproduction behavior

Brolgas most likely mate for life and pair ties are strengthened during elaborate courtship displays that include a lot of dancing, leaping, wing-flapping, and loud trumpeting.

Both partners build an isolated zone that is fiercely protected. A single clutch of white (blotched with brown and purple) eggs is laid. 

The nest is a big mound of vegetation on a small island in a marsh or shallow river. The eggs are incubated by both parents, and the young birds are cared for by both.

Within two weeks of birth, the chicks are able to fly. For about a year following birth, the parents continue to raise their children.

Their calls/sounds

All crane sounds are instinctual. Some are soft and communicate over short distances, such as touch, stress, and food-begging calls of chicks, and purring sounds emitted by adults when feeding.

In contrast, a mated pair’s famous unison call or duet can be heard from 2-3 kilometers (roughly 6 miles) away. The booming calls are referred to as trumpeting or bugling.

During their first year, young cranes move from juvenile to adult calls, with a noticeable ‘voice break’ at roughly nine months, when they separate from their parents before the following breeding season.

What do they eat? (diet)

The Brolga is omnivorous, which means it feeds on both plant and animal stuff. They will consume a wide range of wetland plants, insects, and amphibians, as well as mice.

Brolgas are excellent foragers, and can even do so with their heads entirely submerged in water. In quest of food, they will use their heavy beak like a crowbar to wedge the earth open and turn it over.

Brolgas usually eat on tubers, which they dig out from the ground with their pointed beaks in several parts of the world.

Where do they live? (habitat)

Brolga

The Brolga is found throughout Australia’s north and northeast, from Victoria to northeast Queensland. It can also be found in southern New Guinea, northern Western Australia, and New Zealand.

It can be found in wetlands, shallow open marshes, wet meadows, coastal mudflats, and even estuaries. It avoids arid and semi-arid environments, but it may live near water in such situations. 

How long do they live? (lifespan)

According to research, Brogla can live up to 33 years in captivity, if cared for correctly. In the wild, they can live up to roughly 30 years old, but their lifespan tends to be much shorter in these scenarios.

What predators do they have?

The Red Fox is a common predator for the Brolga, often eating eggs and young chicks. Additionally, The most serious threat to Brolgas is the degradation and loss of their wetland habitats as a result of wetlands drainage, excessive grazing, and fencing.

Collisions with power lines and predation by the invasive red fox are additional dangers.

What are their feathers like?

The Brolga is a pale grey color with a noticeable red to orange patch on its head and a black dewlap (a piece of skin) hanging beneath its chin.  Their plumage is light bluish grey to grey. Youngsters have pale grey body feathers, a cinnamon-brown head, and dark brown eyes.

The ear coverts are a grey patch of tiny feathers surrounded by red bare skin, while the rest of the body is silvery-grey. The back feathers and wing coverts have light edges.

The primary wing feathers are black, while the secondary wing feathers are grey. Greyish-black is the color of the legs and feet.

What does their poop look like?

The feces of brolgas, like that of other birds, is frequently a white-colored liquid. The white color is due to the presence of urea, which bleaches the poop of most birds. 

Do they migrate?

These animals are not considered migratory but they may move to different areas based on seasonal rainfall. However, brolgas are social birds that are frequently observed in pairs and in family groups of 3 to 4 members.

Following the breeding season, the birds congregate in big flocks, with families remaining distinct. Such tribes may be nomadic in part or remain in the same location. Brolgas are active during the day and sleep during the night.

Some birds of this species move north as well. Brolgas put on elaborate displays like mating dances throughout the year, not only during the breeding season.

Conservation Status

According to Wikipedia, the population in northern Australia is estimated at between 20,000 and 100,000 birds, and in southern Australia, 1,000 birds. Brolgas are classified as least concern (LC) on the list of threatened species with stable population trends.

Although the population may be declining slowly, this is not at a rate that would warrant the brolga being included in a more vulnerable category.

At the landscape level, widespread marsh farming may limit the quantity and quality of Brolga habitat.

Changes in climatic circumstances result in less marsh filling and a longer duration of filling, both of which have an impact on breeding success and perhaps juvenile survival.

International cooperation, legal protection, research, monitoring, habitat management, education, and the maintenance of captive flocks for propagation and reintroduction are among the conservation efforts being implemented.

Although the bird breeds effectively in the wild, it has proven to be far more difficult to breed in captivity.

Fun Facts

The brolga is one of Australia’s two crane species, and it is famous for its beautiful dance displays by both men and females during the breeding season.

The birds begin the dance by bowing and stretching, then walking forwards and backward while bobbing their heads, flapping their wings, and calling. Mates dance individually or in groups of 10 to 12 birds. 

Another demonstration involves the birds picking up some grass, twigs, or other plant material, tossing it in the air and then grabbing it with their bills. They also jump high before gliding down to land.

When threatened, brolga infants hide and remain silent as their parents execute a broken-wing show to entice the attacker away.

According to Aboriginal folklore, the brolga was once a famous dancer known as Buralga.

Because of its enormous wingspan, the brolga has a forceful flight and flaps its wings multiple times before gliding. When looking for cooler air, they can fly at a high height.

Brolgas will dig holes in the mud to extract sedge tubers with their long bill when consuming sedge tubers.

The Brolga has featured on the Queensland coat of arms since 1977. They are known as ‘Native Companions’ because they are the only species of crane worldwide that is native to Australia.