Australian Bush Birds
Sarus crane  -  Grus antigone
Sarus crane
Sarus Crane feeding in the Mutton Hole Conservation Area near Normanton, Qld at the heart of the species' range. Note the red head and neck as well as the pink-grey legs which differentiate this species from the Brolga.
Sarus crane juvenile Sarus crane
Left: Juvenile Sarus Crane with orange head skin not yet grown into the adult red-orange.
Right: Head of a Sarus Crane showing the extent of the red-orange bare skin.
The Sarus Crane - Grus antigone - is similar to the Brolga and was for many years identified as that bird. The Sarus Crane is a large crane (males 1.3 to 1.4 metres tall, females 1.1 to 1.3 metres tall), slightly taller than the Brolga. Coloured pale grey overall with dusky outermost flight feathers and paler inner flight feathers; flight feathers form an unorganised rudimentary bustle at the tail. Head and upper neck are bare, coloured orange-red. Face and head are olive-grey, the red-orange skin surrounds the eye and extends along the neck. Grey feathering on the chin and over both ears; black hair at throat and sides of neck. Eye is orange-yellow, bill olive-grey. Legs and feet greyish to pink. Males and females similar.

Sarus Crane - page 2
map map Immature birds are similar to adults but face skin is paler orange in colour.

The Sarus Crane differs from the Brolga in more extensive red bare neck, grey feathering on the chin in place of the Brolga's dewlap, and pink legs. Brolgas and Sarus Cranes can form mixed flocks.

Found in Cape York, south to the Burdekin valley and west along the Gulf of Carpentaria to the Roper River. Withdraws to the eastern head of the Gulf for nesting. When not breeding, Sarus Cranes congregate in loose flocks of up to several hundred birds on feeding grounds of shallow grass and sedge-covered swamps and adjacent pasture. By day they feed in pairs or family groups picking up grains, tubers, plant shoots, insects, and small vertebrates. At night they congregate in tighter groups standing to roost in shallow waters.

When breeding late in the wet season (January to March), nesting pairs occupy territories of 50 to 80 hectares. Courting pairs duet in unison standing close together with necks upstretched and bills pointing upwards and the males wings flared. Both sexes build the nest of a rough platform of sticks and vegetable matter about 2 metres in diameter, often in shallow water in densely grassed swamps with the base on mud. Usually two eggs are laid, bluish white to cream, lightly spotted with brown, mauve and sepia, oval, 100mm by 65 mm. Incubated by both parents. Usually only one young is reared; the chick begins to walk, swim and feed itself two days after hatching and is almost self-sufficient in a week.

Young remain with their parents until the next season's breeding. Sarus Cranes are reported to live for 60 years.