The Kookaburra is the world's largest kingfisher but, unlike other kingfishers, it spends most of its time hunting non-aquatic prey. It is a stocky carnivorous bird measuring about 45 cm in length and weighing about 0.5 kg. It is also referred to as a Laughing Kookaburra because its very loud bird call sounds like human laughter.
Kookaburra is pronounced "cook-a-bar-ra".
The kookaburra has a large square head with a very thick neck with strong neck muscles. Its large brown eyes gives it excellent vision. It has a large beak which is almost as long as its head. The kookaburra has a distinctive brown eye-stripe across its face and another fainter brown stripe on top of its head. The kookaburra's upper plumage is streaked in shades of dark brown. The wings are brown with blue or white freckles. Its lower plumage is off-white in colour. It has reddish-brown tail with bands of black. The colours of its plumage with shades of white, black and brown camouflages it well against its surroundings, making it difficult for both predator and prey to see it.
The kookaburra is well adapted to its Australian habitat. Its feathers are thicker, with about 25% better insulation, than birds of its size. In order to conserve energy it flies slowly and also lowers its metabolism and body temperature by up to 9.1°C (16.4°F) during the night.
One Crazy Kookaburra
We have a crazy Kookaburra living in our garden. He thinks he is our alarm clock. He taps real hard and long on our lounge room window early each morning. He wakes us all up. When Dad decided to cover up the window with a plastic sheet the kookaburra decided to dive bomb another window. I am surprised he hasn't broken the window yet because he crashes so hard into it. Or even killed itself!
The male and female kookaburra are of similar size and appearance. The female, is however, slightly larger than the male. The average lifespan of a kookaburra is about 15 years.
Kookaburras live in woodlands in loosely-knit family groups with clearly defined territories. The family unit consist of a monogamous male and female together with up to 6 helper birds. These helper birds are older generations of offspring who help their parents to care for the next generation of offspring.
Kookaburras don't usually drink water as they get enough water from their food. They do, however, love to bathe. This is probably a characteristic from their primordial past as kingfishers.
Scientific name - Dacelo novaeguineae
The word kookaburra comes from Wiradjuri Aboriginal word guuguubarra. The word was derived from the sound the bird makes. The kookaburra has a very loud and distinctive call which sounds like human laughter. This is why it is also referred to as the "Laughing Kookaburra". In the past, for no obvious reason, it was also known as the "Laughing Jackass".
The kookaburra's call is usually heard at dawn and dusk but it may also be heard, less frequently, at any time of the day. It starts off as a slow chuckle 'oooo' and then builds up to boisterous 'ha ha ha'.
This communal call is to establish the territory of the family unit and warn off other kookaburras. The family unit may vocalise together like a chorus to amplify their claim to their territory. If any rival groups are within ear-shot they too may respond, filling the air with, what sounds to us humans as, a cacophony of raucous laughter?
Researchers have found that members of a family unit laugh in a similar manner, as though they are all laughing from the same "hymn sheet".
The Kookaburra's laugh is a social behaviour. If a kookaburra is held alone in captivity, for example, it will not laugh.
The way it eats snakes is neat. It swoops down and grabs the snake from behind its head and then flies up high into the air and then drops the snake to kill it. Sometimes it bashes the snake against a branch to kill it.
The kookaburra is a carnivorous bird which uses a 'perch and pounce' tactic, typical of kingfishers, to catch its prey. It usually perches on a branch and waits patiently for its prey to pass by. It then swoops down and grabs its victim with its powerful beak and either swallows it whole, or if its prey is too large, it bashes it against a hard surface to break its victim into small consumable chucks. It is this bashing behaviour that has resulted in the kookaburra having such strong neck muscles compared to other birds.
The kookaburra's diet consists mostly of large insects, frogs, fish, crabs and crayfish. It also eats small animals, other birds and especially snakes. Undigested food such as fur, exoskeletons of insects, bones are regurgitated in dry capsules.
Laughing Kookaburras reach sexual maturity and adulthood at one year of age. They are believed to pair for life. Their nesting season starts in September and finishes in January. The birds nest in a large cavity in a tree trunk or in a hole made in a tree-dwelling termite mound.
The female usually lays three white eggs 1-2 day apart. The female incubates the eggs at night and the male and offspring of the previous one to two years also help in incubating the eggs. In this way every bird in the family shares parenting duties. The incubation period lasts 24-26 days. Usually, the first egg to be laid in a clutch will be a male and the second egg will be a female. There is a high level of siblicide (killing a brother or sister) among kookaburra hatchings. The third chick rarely survives. It is attacked by the other two chicks resulting in a 50% death rate of the third chick.
Baby Kookaburra Chick
The young birds are born naked and blind. All members of the family, that is the parents and older siblings from the previous brood, help feed and care for the young chicks.
Instead of being forced out on reaching maturity, most young kookaburras stay and help their parents defend the family's territory and to help raise and protect further offspring.
The Kookaburras are found throughout eastern Australia where they live is eucalyptus forests and woodlands. They have also adapted well to humans and can frequently be found in urban parks and gardens. Humans have also introduced kookaburras to Tasmania, Western Australia and even New Zealand!
The kookaburra is a territorial sedentary bird. That is to say, it marks its territory and lives there year after year. The territory of a family group can range between 16 to 244 hectares depending on the availability of prey in the particular habitat. Birds will honour the territory of another and will not enter it for any reason, even if it means catching a meal in its neighbour's territory.
The kookaburra population is estimated to be around 65 million birds. They are not considered an endangered species, but as with all Australian native animals, they are protected by strict laws. The population may, however, be in decline due to human impacts such as habitat destruction.
As with most other native animals the kookaburra suffers from the destruction, fragmentation and loss of its habitat, namely the eucalyptus forests and woodlands in which it hunts and tree hollows in which it nests.
Older Kookaburras are most vulnerable to airborne predators such as goshawks, whistling kites, owls and eagles. In more recent times they have also fallen prey to introduced animals such as feral cats and foxes.
Motor Vehicles Strikes
Kookaburras are relatively slow flying birds. This makes them vulnerable to impacts with motor vehicles because they can't fly fast enough to avoid an oncoming vehicle.
Being a carnivorous bird the kookaburra is also an opportunist and will try to eat road kill, animals knocked down by road vehicles. Unfortunately the kookaburra is a slow flier. It finds it very difficult to get airborne quickly to get out of the way of oncoming traffic. As a consequence the bird itself becomes a road fatality.
Forest fires in Australia are fast and intense. They destroy large tracts of forest in which kookaburras live.
Another type of kookaburra that lives in Australia is the Blue-winged Kookaburra which lives in eastern Queensland. It has light coloured eyes, does not have the brown eye-stripe and has a blue tail and mostly blue wing features.
Its call is similar to that of the Laughing Kookaburra but end more abruptly.
The popular Australian nursery rhyme "The Kookaburra" or "The kookaburra sits in the old gum tree" written by Marion Sinclair in 1932 was recently embroiled in controversy when the current copyright owner of this song claimed that the song Down Under by the famous Australian Band, Men At Work, had plagiarised a part of the music from this song.