Ian’s Bird of the Week – Sarus Crane ~ by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter – 9/19/13
I went up to the Atherton Tableland at the weekend to photograph Freckled Ducks at Hasties Swamp where these rare birds had recently been reported. The ducks were still there perching on a log at an inconvenient distance from the hide and, although I spent several hours on three occasions in the hide, they never came any closer and I gave them a wooden spoon award for being undynamic and uncooperative. However, Sarus Cranes, which winter in fields on the Tableland were more cooperative.
Before I tell you the odd story of their history in Australia, here is a spot-the-difference exercise comparing the Sarus Crane, first photo, with the much commoner and more widespread Brolga, second photo.
You have to spot only two differences: the red on the neck of the Sarus Crane extends much farther down than on the Brolga, and the Brolga has a dewlap, the flap of tissue hanging down from the chin. There is another difference: Sarus Cranes have pink legs, and Brolgas have grey ones, though this is often difficult to spot as the legs can be pinkish-grey in the Sarus Crane. Anyway, more about distinguish them later.
We first discovered a small party of Sarus Cranes feeding near the Malanda-Atherton Highway (opposite the upmarket Gallo chocolate and cheese place). While I was taking photos of them, a flock of about 60 joined them in the field except for 5 which obligingly flew over us, photos 3 and 4. In flight they look positively Jurassic Park-ish and make wonderful, insistent, gurgling, trumpeting noises.
The next day, when I got bored waiting for the ducks to do something I went to Gallo for cheese and lunch and found a family, I presume, of Sarus Cranes – 2 adults and a juvenile – close to the road that goes from the Malanda-Atherton road to Yungaburra via the Curtain Fig National Park, photos 5 and 6 (the other adult is in the first photo).
In juvenile Sarus Cranes the red colour is replaced by buffish-cinnamon, usually darker than the one these photos.
The reason for the spot-the-difference exercise was to show that the two species are not hard to separate in the field. So, why were Sarus Cranes not positively identified in Australia until 1966 (in Normanton on the Gulf of Carpentaria)? The fashionable explanation at the time – which got unobservant birders off the hook – was they had recently colonised Australia from, presumably, Indochina, the nearest other place that they occur naturally. The Australian birds were conveniently similar to the Eastern Sarus Crane (race sharpii) that occurs there, even though it doesn’t migrate. Maybe they couldn’t cope with the sounds of war in Vietnam. It is now though that the Australian Sarus Cranes form another smaller race, gilliae, and have been here all along nesting in remote swamps on the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York Peninsula with at least some moving to the Atherton Tableland in winter.
The last photo shows the nominate race, antigone, in India. It has white tertiary feathers (the bustle) and with a length of 176cm/70in (weight to 12kg/26lbs) is the world’s tallest flying bird. The population in India is perhaps 10,000, Indochina 1,000 and Australia 5,000. It is extinct in various countries including the Philippines (probably yet another race) and Pakistan and is under threat in Indochina. The Australia population is thought to be stable and may have benefitted from clearing of land for agriculture on the Atherton Tableland.
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 firstname.lastname@example.org
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/
Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au
Thanks again, Ian, for sharing another great bird. I encountered my first Sarus Cranes at the Zoo Miami’s Wings of Asia Aviary. They were walking along the sidewalk, and like Ian said, they are tall. I am only 4’10″ and they are over 5 feet. Needless to say, I gave them room when they walked by and also had to look up to them.
Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes fail with looking upward: O LORD, I am oppressed; undertake for me. (Isaiah 38:14 KJV)
Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the LORD. (Jeremiah 8:7 KJV)
Sarus Crane – Wikipedia