The Laughing Kookaburra, Dacelo novaeguineae, is an Australian carnivorous bird in the Kingfisher family. This species of kookaburra is well known for its laughing call.
The Laughing Kookaburra was first described by French naturalist Johann Hermann
in 1783, its specific epithet novaeguineae
refers to New Guinea. For many years it was known as Dacelo gigas
. Previously known as the Laughing Jackass
it is now best known by its aboriginal name.
It is found throughout eastern Australia, and has been introduced into the south-west corner of Western Australia
, Flinders Island
, Kangaroo Island
Furthermore, some were also introduced into New Zealand between 1866 and 1880, but only those liberated on Kawau Island by Sir George Grey survived. Descendants are still found there today.
The Laughing Kookaburra is a stocky bird of about 45 cm
) in length, with a large head, a prominent brown eye, and a very large bill. The sexes are very similar, although the female averages larger and has less blue to the rump than the male. They have a white or cream-colored body and head with a dark brown stripe through each eye and more faintly over the top of the head. The wings and back are brown with sky blue spots on the shoulders. The tail is rusty reddish-orange with dark brown bars and white tips on the feathers. The heavy bill is black on top and bone colored on the bottom.
Ecology and behaviour
Kookaburras occupy woodland territories (including forests) in loose family groups, and their laughter serves the same purpose as a great many other bird calls -- to demarcate territorial borders.
The "Laughing Kookaburra" is known by its name for its "laugh" which it uses to greet its mate after periods of absences. It can be heard at any time of day but most frequently shortly after dawn and especially when the colour drains from the forest after sunset.
One bird starts with a low, hiccupping chuckle, then throws its head back in raucous laughter: often several others join in. If a rival tribe is within earshot and replies, the whole family soon gathers to fill the bush with ringing laughter. Hearing kookaburras in full voice is one of the more extraordinary experiences of the Australian bush, something even locals cannot ignore; some visitors, unless forewarned, may find their call startling.
Kookaburras hunt much as other kingfishers (or indeed Australasian robins
) do: by perching on a convenient branch or wire and waiting patiently for prey to pass by. Common prey includes mice
and similar-sized small mammals
, large insects
, small birds and nestlings, and most famously, snakes
. Small prey are preferred, but not infrequently do kookaburras take surprisingly large creatures, including venomous
snakes a good deal longer than the bird itself.
Most species of Kookaburra tend to live in family units, with offspring helping the parents hunt and care for the next generation of offspring.
During mating season, the Laughing Kookaburra indulges in behaviour similar to that of a Wattle Bird. The female adopts a begging posture and vocalises like a young bird. The male then offers her his current catch accompanied with an "oo oo oo" sound. They start breeding around October/November. If the first clutch fails, they will continue breeding into the summer months.
They generally lay three eggs at about 2 day intervals. If the food supply is not adequate the third egg will be smaller and the third chick will also be smaller and at a disadvantage to its larger siblings. Chicks have a hook on the upper mandible, which disappears by the time of fledging. If the food supply to the chicks is not adequate the chicks will quarrel and the hook can be used as a weapon and the smallest chick can be killed by its larger siblings. If food is plentiful the parent birds spend more time brooding the chicks and so the chicks are not able to fight.
Interaction with humans
The Laughing Kookaburra are a common sight in suburban gardens and urban settings, even in quite built up areas, and are so accustomed to humans that they will quite often eat out of their hands. People often fed them pieces of raw meat and gristle.
It is not recommended to feed them however as it interferes with their basic dietary requirements and can lead to disease.
- http://www.freesound.org/samplesViewSingle.php?id=57055 Downloadable Audio File of the sounds of the Laughing Kookaburra
- Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern