Crane Watching

There are fifteen species of cranes around the world, many are classified as endangered, and two, the Brolga and the Sarus Crane, both occur on the Tablelands, making this a really important region for cranes.

DNA data indicates that the ancestors of current Brolgas arrived in Australia around 2 million years ago, and they are now only found in Australia, whilst the first recorded sighting of Sarus Cranes on the Tablelands took place as late as 1967.  Australian Sarus Cranes are one of three sub-species of Sarus, the others occurring in India and south-east Asia.


Brolga or Sarus?

Although from a distance it is hard to distinguish between the light grey Brolgas and Sarus Cranes, with a pair of binoculars or from nearby, there are some easily spotted distinguishing features.

Brolgas have a red 'skullcap' whereas the red on Sarus extends further down the neck. Brolgas have grey legs, and Sarus legs are pink. Brolgas have a small 'dewlap' under the chin, and look as if they are wearing a small red knotted scarf,  Sarus don't have the dewlap.

Sarus cranes,  reaching up to 145cm in height,  are slightly taller than  Brolgas, but of course height varies from individual to individual, and according to gender and age, and is not a reliable guide.


For more information on Australian cranes and current research, visit the Ozcranes website

Crane Count

 Find out about the annual crane count  by contacting Virginia Simmonds on  4095 8302.

Stop Press

Brolga, Sarus, or Sarolga?  If you have noticed cranes that appear to be intermediary between a Brolga and a Sarus, you can help current research by providing this information to Charles  Darwin University -  photos, locations or other anecdotal information is all of interest. Please email timothy.nevard(at)   



Brolga - a shorter red 'skullcap'

Brolga - less red

Sarus Crane - more red on the neck

Sarus Crane - more red

Sarus cranes have pink legs

Sarus Crane - pink legs

Brolga's have grey legs

Brolga - grey legs


Where to watch Cranes

You don't need a pair of binoculars to see cranes on the Tablelands, but to really enjoy your crane spotting, binoculars are a great help. There are many places to watch cranes across the Tablelands region. Some of the best sites to see Brolgas are in the outer drier areas, such as Mt Garnet, or the Mareeba Wetlands, whilst the more central Tablelands area sees a greater concentration of Sarus, such as at Bromfield Swamp or Lake Tinaroo.

In the daytime, cranes can be seen foraging on fallow fields for grubs or tubers, or feeding amongst livestock. At the end of each day they fly in long v formations to roost close to water. Swamps and lakes therefore are great places to spot cranes at dusk, or early in the morning when they can be seen dancing and calling to each other, reaffirming their pair bonds and family groups, as the day warms up.

Some of the best places to see cranes throughout the Tablelands include (see map):

  • Bromfield Swamp
  • Mareeba Wetlands
  • Marks Lane and fields around Atherton
  • Lake Tinaroo
  • Kaban
  • Tumoulin
  • Innot Hot Springs

Cranes start to arrive on the Tablelands as their traditional breeding grounds out west in the Gulf of Carpentaria or to the north in Cape York being to dry out and their young become sufficiently strong to make the journey.  Their numbers build up from early June to a peak in August and September. As the first storms heralding the Wet Season begin, the cranes instinctively get ready for their long journey back to their breeding grounds to make ready for the next year's brood. By Christmas they have all departed.

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