Laugh, Kookaburra, Laugh!
The laughing kookaburra is named for its unique call which a group will make in the morning to advertise their presence and control over a territory helping to keep other kookaburras away from them. This call has given rise to a range of alternative names such as the ”bushman’s alarm clock” due to their habit of calling each morning.
These animals are found in Australia where they live in small family groups. Chicks remain with their parents for a few years gaining skills which will assist them when they raise their own chicks for the first time.
They are the largest species of kingfisher in the world but do not feed primarily on fish instead hunting insects, small reptiles and mammals.
What does a Laughing Kookaburra look like?
The laughing kookaburra belongs to the kingfisher family but unlike most kingfishers that are brightly coloured these birds are plain coloured.
They are a stocky bird with a large head. They have a white or beige head and front with brown wings and back. The front has pale wavy grey lines. The wings are speckled with sky blue spots, and the male of the species often has blue just above the base of their tail. The tail is reddish-orange in colour with brown bars across it and white tips on the feathers. There is a dark brown stripe which looks like a mask crossing each eye.
Laughing kookaburras have a large bill measuring up to 10cm (4in) long, which they use to catch their prey. The upper mandible is colored black which the lower is tan.
The average body length of the laughing kookaburra is 39 to 42cm (15.4 to 16.5in) with the average weight being 196 to 465g (6.9 to 16.4oz). The females are slightly heavier than the males. Their wingspan is 56-66cm (22-26in) across.
How does the Laughing Kookaburra survive in its habitat?
Laughing kookaburras can puff out their feathers in an effort to make them look larger which can help to scare off predators.
What does a Laughing Kookaburra eat?
Most kingfishers specialise in diving in to streams and ponds to catch fish however the laughing kookaburra rarely eats fish. Their diet instead consists mainly of reptiles and rodents. They will eat snakes, lizards, mice, insects and small birds and their young. These animals have been observed feeding on venomous snakes.
They hunt their prey by staying still on a branch or perch waiting for the prey to pass by. When the prey passes by they will swoop down and land next to it taking it in their bill. They will usually bang the prey against a branch to kill it and then will swallow it whole head first.
These animals mostly fulfil their water needs from the food meaning they rarely drink water.
Where do you the find the Laughing Kookaburra?
The laughing kookaburra is native to eastern Australia. Here they occur throughout the states of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. There have been populations introduced to Tasmania, Western Australia, Flinders Island, Kangaroo Island and New Zealand.
Where can a Laughing Kookaburra survive?
They are found in dry eucalyptus forests, woodlands and also in urban parks and gardens. They are quite happy to interact with humans and will even eat out of peoples hands and will sometimes swoop in and take food from peoples hands.
How does a Laughing Kookaburra produce its young?
Kookaburras stay with their mate for life and will use the same nest hole in a tree trunk or arboreal termite nest year after year. In cities they have been seen to use holes in buildings for their nest.
Breeding takes place from August to January. Once they are ready to mate the male will feed the female for about six weeks before she will lay the eggs. The female will lay two or three eggs and after an incubation period of 24 to 29 days the chicks will hatch. At hatching the chicks are blind and unfeathered.
The breeding pair are helped with incubating the eggs, keeping the chicks warm and feeding them by four or five of their grown young. They also help to defend the territory while the breeding pair are busy with the new chicks. Chicks become independent by 10 weeks old when they can feed themselves.
They are sexually mature at a year old but typically won’t breed as they remain with their parents to help them raise the next clutch of eggs.
What does the Laughing Kookaburra do during its day?
Kookaburras live in loose family groups and their laughter like call serves to let other birds know that an area is their territory. They live in family groups with offspring that help their parents care and hunt for the next generation of kookaburras.
Their laugh can be heard at any time of the day but is most often heard after sunset to dusk or shortly after dawn. One of the birds will usually start with a bit of a chuckle and then erupts into a shrieking “laugh”.
If two birds have a disagreement they will engage in a fight during which they grab one anothers bill and fight to throw their opponent off of their perch. The winner is the last one remaining on the branch.
This species will undertake activity during the day. Over night they will rest in a tree.
Laughing kookaburras have different calls that they use for other things such as courtship, showing aggression, raising the alarm and begging for food.
Predators and Threats
What stops the Laughing Kookaburra from surviving and thriving?
Natural predators of adult laughing kookaburras are birds of prey such as the whistling kite and a number of carnivorous mammals. Chicks are also preyed upon by quolls, monitor lizards and snakes. Introduced animals such as cats will prey on kookaburras. The introduced marine toad poisons this species if they attempt to consume them.
Small numbers are present in captivity both in Australian and abroad. The species is able to be bred in captivity helping to reduce reliance on wild populations to supply this trade.
Habitat clearance is the main threat to this species. Their reliance on tree hollows means they require large trees.
In areas with heavy usage of pesticides these animals can become gradually poisoned through an accumulation of pesticides from the food which they consume.
The laughing kookaburra is known as the “bushmans alarm clock, breakfast bird or ha, ha pigeon.”
They were once known as the laughing jackass.
They often live in suburban areas where they can take food from peoples hands.
This species is the largest kingfisher in the world.
Their species name, Dacelo is an anagram from the word alcedo, meaning kingfisher.
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Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) Fact Sheet. c2012-2019. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance; [accessed 27 February 2022]. http://ielc.libguides.com/sdzg/factsheets/ laughingkookaburra
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Dacelo novaeguineae. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 18/04/2020
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Laughing kookaburra (no date) SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. Available at: https://seaworld.org/animals/facts/birds/laughing-kookaburra/ (Accessed: February 27, 2023).
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