The Laughing Kookaburra is the largest of all the Kingfisher species measuring up to 46 cm. It’s an off-white and dark brown bird with a large head, stout body and long, sharp beak. Characteristic of a Laughing Kookaburra is the dark brown ‘bandit’ eye-stripe across the face.
They are an iconic Australian bird with a characteristic ‘laughing cackle’ call. Rather than laughter, the call’s purpose is actually territorial.
The word ‘Kookaburra’ comes from the Aboriginal Wirradgiri word "guuguubarra", which sounds like the bird’s call.
In Australian culture, the Kookaburra is known as the Bushman’s alarm clock, as their calls are most frequent at dawn.
Kookaburras are protected in NSW by the National Parks and Wildlife Act.
Laughing Kookaburras are a common species and not threatened with extinction. In fact, the number of Laughing Kookaburras actually increases in areas where humans have modified such as suburban parks and gardens.
However, the species’ habituation to suburban areas can also have a negative effect on them for several reasons:
- People often feed kookaburras raw mince which gets stuck on their beak and rots, causing problems. Mince also does not include enough calcium for the bird.
- Suburban areas often have no suitable nesting sites for Laughing Kookaburras, which need tree hollows or termite nests to make their nest. It can take up to 150 years for a tree hollow to form and many old or dead trees are removed from suburban areas.
- Humans using pesticides to kill household and garden pests are having an indirect negative impact on kookaburras. When kookaburras eat contaminated insects, they absorb the pesticide chemicals and store them in their fat. The toxins get released into the bird’s body when it starts to burn the fat and this can kill them.
Distribution and Habitat
Laughing Kookaburras are found throughout eastern Australia and have been introduced to Tasmania and New Zealand.
They live in forests, open woodlands, or on the edges of plains. The Laughing Kookaburra is commonly found in suburban areas, especially park lands.
The Laughing Kookaburra mates for life. Only the dominant pair will breed but the rest of the family shares duties such as incubation, feeding and nest protection.
Breeding season is between August and January. Nests are made in tree hollows or termite mounds. Three eggs are usually laid which take between 24 and 29 days to hatch.
A kookaburra can live for 20 years.
Diet and Behaviour
Laughing Kookaburras are carnivorous predators, feeding on small snakes, lizards, frogs, rodents, worms, beetles and other insects.
The kookaburra will sit motionless on a perch and wait for the prey to pass. They then drop to the ground and grab the animal in their beak. If the prey is too large to swallow whole, the kookaburra will bash it on the ground or a tree branch to kill it first.
The most well-known behavior of the Laughing Kookaburra is the ‘laughing’ call. This call is a territorial call to establish boundaries.
One bird will start with a low chuckle, and then others will join in with a loud chorus of 'koo-koo-koo-koo-koo-kaa-kaa-kaa'.
The Kookaburra also ‘laughs‘ to greet their mate after periods of absences.