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The "Laughing Kookaburra" of Australia


The "Laughing Kookaburra",  Dacelo novaeguineae is also called the "Laughing Jackass", or simply the "Kookaburra". There are actually two species of Kookaburra.  As well as the Laughing Kookaburra so familiar to people in the southern states of Australia, there is a "Blue-winged Kookaburra", Dacelo leachii, which lives in eastern Queensland.   The ranges of the two species overlap. This article is about the laughing Kookaburra.

At Raptor Domain near Vivonne Bay on Kangaroo Island, Dave Irwin included two Kookaburras in his "Birds of Prey" show.  The Kookaburra is not technically a raptor, but shares some characteristics with the raptors.  The Kookaburra is a large Kingfisher.  In the Australian Bush they do not catch many fish because there is little water.  In settled areas, Kookaburras will certainly catch Goldfish out of garden ponds.  There also catch other pond fish, but brightly coloured fish are easier to see.

In the Bush, the Kookaburras eat almost any animal of the right size. This includes venomous snakes, lizards, small birds, earthworms, insects, mice, etc. Dave Irwin told us that a few days before we saw his show both the Kookaburras caught and ate mice during the show.  When an animal is caught by a Kookaburra, the bird will kill the little animal by beating it against a branch.  Kookaburras that live near Humans can become quite tame and will come for pieces of meat.  The Kookaburra will still beat the meat and make sure it is dead.

The natural range of the Kookaburra is the whole of eastern Australia, including South Australia and Kangaroo Island.  They are not native to Tasmania, Western Australia or New Zealand, but have been introduced to these areas.

Kookaburras are believed to mate for life.  They breed from August to January.  Not only do the two parents share the upbringing of the new babies, but also their offspring from the previous two years help with their younger siblings.  The nest is typically a natural hollow in a tree, or sometimes a hole in a termite mound of the type that is in a tree.

The name "Laughing Kookaburra" comes from the cry of this bird which sounds like raucous laughter.

The Kookaburra will typically perch while looking for prey.  Dave Irwin was able to demonstrate an interesting adaption of the Kookaburra.  Tree branches often sway in the wind.  The kookaburra can compensate for minor swaying and keeps its head still so it can concentrate on looking.

For more pictures of the Kookaburra, see my "slide show" Kookaburras.

Apart from the interesting talk Dave Irwin gave at Raptors Domain, Sources of the information in this article include the Laughing Kookaburra fact sheet of the Australian Museum and observations of the Kookaburra over the last 45 years, plus the things our customers tell us about Kookaburras.
Steve Challis
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Baby Kookaburra Swallowing a Lizard Whole
By Chris Rex Parsons [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons