The Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) is a distinctive large, noisy bird native to the woodlands and forests of eastern Australia.
The Laughing Kookaburra is the world’s largest kingfisher and one of Australia’s most familiar birds, well known for its laughing call.
Previously known as the Laughing Jackass and Giant Kingfisher, today its name comes from the aboriginal name ‘guuguuberra’.
The laughing kookaburra has been introduced into Tasmania, Flinders Island, Kangaroo Island and the south-west corner of Western Australia.
Use the information below to find out more about the Laughing Kookaburra’s characteristics, habitat, diet, behaviour and reproduction.
Laughing Kookaburra Characteristics
This comical bird is easily recognisable both in appearance and sound. The Laughing Kookaburra measures around 43 – 45 centimetres (17 – 18 inches) in length and weighs around 0.5 kilograms (1 pound) with females being slightly larger than males.
Male and females have a similar plumage which is mainly brown and white/cream. Males have a small patch of blue-green feathers in the centre of the rump that is reduced or absent in the female.
The laughing kookaburra is a thick-set bird who has a large head and short, thick neck. It has a very large, heavy beak which is black on the top and beige/tan on the bottom and measures up to 10 centimetres (4 inches) in length.
Laughing kookaburras have prominent brown eyes with dark brown stripes extending through them. Their back and wings are brown and they have blue shoulder spots. Laughing kookaburras have longish tails that are rusty red in colour with dark brown barring and white feather tips.
Laughing Kookaburra Habitat
Laughing kookabuuras occupy forests and woodlands or where there are suitable trees, usually in loose family groups. They are also found in orchards, parkland, partially timbered farmland and even suburbs and towns.
Laughing Kookaburra Diet
Laughing Kookaburras are carnivores and their diet includes small birds, frogs, insects, small mammals and lizards such as geckos. They have even been known to catch venomous snakes much larger than themselves.
Like all kingfishers, laughing kookaburras employ a ‘sit and wait’ technique of hunting. They catch their prey by waiting patiently for prey to pass by and then swooping down from their high perches and grabbing their food and crushing it in their strong beaks.
Small prey is eaten whole, however, larger prey is killed by being bashed against the ground or a tree probably to tenderise the meat. The kookaburra does not drink any water as it gets enough water from the food it eats.
Laughing Kookaburra Behaviour
Laughing Kookaburras spend most of their day perched in high branches overlooking rainforest clearings watching for prey. They are territorial birds and their loud dawn and dusk calls warn all surrounding birds that they are ready to defend their territories. They begin with a a repeated ‘kook-kook-kook-ka-ka-ka’ call that rises and falls in volume as family members join in and then they throw their heads back into a loud chorus of boisterous laughter.
Laughing Kookaburras are quite tame and social birds who will give you a loud chorus of laughter before coming down from their perch to accept scraps of meat from their audience. Being a common sight in suburban and urban areas, laughing kookaburras will even eat out of a human hand.
Laughing Kookaburra Reproduction
Breeding occurs around October and November, however, if breeding fails, laughing kookaburras will continue mating into the summer months. Mating rituals are similar to those of the Wattle Bird whereby, the female adopts a begging positon and calls like a young bird. The males offers her his latest catch accompanied with a ‘oo oo oo’ sound. Breeding pairs may pair for life.
Kookaburra nests are often tree hollows or excavated out of arboreal termite nests. The birds use their strong heads and beaks to crack dents into the hard exterior of the nest, continuing until they have constructed a hole for the female to lay her eggs and rear the chicks inside.
The female kookaburra lays around 3 eggs at 2 day intervals. Eggs are incubated for around 29 days. Hatchlings are born blind and practically naked. Their eyes may not open completely until the bird is nearly 3 weeks old. The parents feed the chicks a diet primarily of insects, as they remain within the burrow for a full month. When they finally leave the nest they are already able to fly.
Kookaburra chicks have a hook on their upper mandible which disappears by the time they fledge. If food supplies are scarce, the 3rd egg will be smaller than the first 2 eggs thereby producing a smaller 3rd chick. Their hooks can be used as a weapon during sibling rivalry and it is most likely that the smaller chick will be attacked by its siblings and killed as the fight for food ensues. When food is abundant, parents are able to spend more time with the chicks and feed them more which prevents the chicks from fighting.
Juvenile Kookabuuras tend to remain in family groups in their home territory for around 4 years after birth. They stay to help their parents hunt and care for the next generation of chicks. Their parents give them incubation and brooding duties. The young kookaburras also supply new nestlings with over half their food intake. Laughing kookaburras are able to mate at around 12 months old.
The life span of the Laughing Kookaburra is around 15 – 20 years.
Laughing Kookaburra Conservation Status
The Laughing Kookaburra is classed as ‘Least Concern’ by the IUCN. As small carnivores, laughing kookaburras play an integral role in the ecosystem by controlling small animal populations.