Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory


Regional Maps

Family GRUIDAE Vigors, 1825



The 15 species within the family Gruidae comprise one or two genera of which two species, in the genus Grus>, occur in Australia. This family occurs in Eurasia, Africa, Australia and North America, and is vagrant to New Zealand. Each may be described as being large or very large with long necks and legs; they also have long sturdy bills. They have an enlarged caeca and a cleft palate, and the reduced hallux on the anisodactyl foot is elevated above the other three toes. The sexes do not vary in their external morphology although males are slightly larger. Plumage is basically either or white or grey (to bluish); those frequenting extensive wetlands have greater amounts of white whereas those found in smaller wetlands, grasslands or forest are greyer; white birds are generally larger and all have black flight feathers. The majority of species have areas of bare reddish facial and neck skin while some have plumes and red combs on the head. All exhibit long tertials extending beyond their tail and inner flight feathers.

Gruids are gregarious during the non-breeding season when they gather in large flocks. All fly with outstretched necks and trailing legs often soaring to considerable heights. While several of the non Australian species migrate long distances, Australia’s usually sedentary G. rubicunda and G. antigone, only migrate to wetter regions during periods of drought. A characteristic of the family is the often noisy congregations. These are often associated with courtship displays of elaborate dancing, which may involve single birds or groups; dances are also used to distract predators from the young or nests. The vocalisation, usually a loud bugling or trumpeting uttered at either dawn or dusk, is through the use of a convoluted tracheal arrangement. Their trachea is elongate, partially coiled and penetrates the sternum, in some species the trachea is fused with the sternum, allowing the bugling to carry for a considerable distance.

The Australian species frequent open wetlands and grasslands, feeding opportunistically by alternating the diet according to food availability. They are omnivores, feeding on small rodents, fish, amphibians, snakes, terrestrial invertebrates, crustaceans, grain, berries, and tubers.

Courtship is initiated by the pair conducting their spectacular dance often in association with other pairs, pairing is generally permanent amongst the family. The paired birds then select a nest site, which is on the ground in shallow water surrounded by protective plants, and isolated from other nest sites. Both adults construct the large nest — a flat platform nest of weeds and rushes. Each clutch contains two long-oval eggs that are off white or pale cream base colour and sometimes faintly blotched cream or buff overall. Both adults incubate the eggs alternately, the incubation lasting between 28 and 36 days.

The young, upon hatching, are both nidicolous and precocial, being covered by a tawny or grey down. Again both adults care for the young, which may leave the nest within a few days of hatching. The family group remains together for nine months until the next breeding season when the adults drive off the young.


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
10-Nov-2020 GRUIFORMES 08-Jul-2014 MODIFIED Dr Wayne Longmore
12-Feb-2010 (import)