What is a Brolga?

Jacob Queen

The brolga is an Australian bird found primarily in the northern and eastern parts of the country. These birds are a member of the crane family, and they have the classic lanky build of other species in that group. Brolgas are about 45 inches tall (115 cm), with grayish feathers and a red patch on the backs of their heads. Their wingspan is approximately 6 feet (2 meters).

Brolgas commonly live in wetland areas.
Brolgas commonly live in wetland areas.

These birds normally prefer to live in the swamps, but they sometimes live on irrigated farming ground and other places where they can find fresh water, including streams and rivers. Brolgas are social birds, and they congregate in very large groups of up to 1,000 individuals. Within the larger flocks, there are smaller family groups headed up by male leaders. They generally migrate across wide areas when seasonal changes create a scarcity of food.

The population of the brolga is relatively healthy in most parts of its range, but there are areas where numbers have decreased significantly, mostly due to various ecological pressures. Some of the wetlands that make up important parts of their habitat have been drained for farming, which has generally made things difficult for the brolga. Ecologists think this situation could worsen in the future, and brolgas may eventually become endangered all over Australia if something isn’t done to protect them.

When it comes to food, brolgas are generalists, eating an omnivorous diet. They consume a mix of vegetation like grass and roots along with small animals like lizards and various insects. They mostly eat in the daytime, and they've been known to occasionally take advantage of crops when roosting on farmlands.

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One of the most famous things about the brolga is its mating ritual. The male and female get together and perform an elaborate dance together with their wings spread. They shake their heads and leap in a very formal kind of procedure that actually looks like a dance. While this is going on, there is also a lot of vocalization.

Like many other birds, brolgas generally mate for life. In a typical breeding season, the birds will produce a clutch of two eggs. The male and female brolga both share incubation duties, and the eggs hatch after approximately 28 days. Their nests are constructed of various grasses and other vegetation, which is piled up to make a platform in the middle of the water. Once the infant birds hatch, both parents help in the job of feeding and protecting them.

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