Overview

Brief Summary

The Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) is found in eastern and southwestern Australia in Eucalyptus forest and woodland, using riparian trees along major watercourses to extend inland or into primary forest. Laughing Kookaburras are also found on wooded and cleared farmland and in city parks and suburban gardens so long as appropriate nesting cavities are available. In some areas of overlap with the Blue-winged Kookaburra, the two species are interspecifically territorial; in other areas, Blue-winged Kookaburras use drier habitats.

The Laughing Kookaburra's well studied diet includes earthworms, snails, diverse arthropods, and small vertebrates. Most prey is taken from the ground. Snakes up to 1 m long may be grabbed behind the head, beaten violently on the ground or on a perch, then swallowed head first. Scraps may be taken at picnic areas. Undigested food is regurgitated as pellets, which accumulate beneath regular roosting sites.

A breeding pair is often assisted by 4 or 5 "helpers", mostly male young from previous years. 

Lifespan in the wild is up to around 11 years. The Laughing Kookaburra is common over most of its range and has generally benefited from human settlement, although density declines where farmland is converted to housing.

(Woodall 2001 and references therein)

  • Woodall, P.F. 2001. Genus Dacelo. Pp. 200-203 in: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., and Sargatal, J., eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 6. Mousebirds to Hornbills. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
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Distribution

Geographic Range

Kookaburra are found in eastern and southern Australia and have recently been introduced into Tasmania. They are not migratory.

(Phoenix Zoo 2001; Parry, 1970)

Biogeographic Regions: australian (Introduced , Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

The Kookaburra is 45cm long and weighs approximately one pound (.5 kg). It has a large square head with brown cheek patches on its face. It is brown with a grayish white underside and has dark bands on its tail. It is a stocky bird with a long, dagger-like beak. Males, females, as well as their offspring (over 3 months of age) are identical in physical appearance as well as vocal behavior.

(Phoenix Zoo, 2001, Ponnamperuma, 1997; Koala Web, 2000; Parry, 1970)

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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Kookaburras live in medium to dense woodland areas that are typically wet and cold. They live in leafy trees sometimes near inland water.

(Parry, 1970; Ponnamperuma 1997)

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

The Kookaburra can be described as insectivorous as well as carnivorous. It feeds primarily on snakes, large lizards, worms, snails, insects, fresh water crayfish, frogs, small birds and rodents. It has a prominent bony ridge in the back of its skull, like the Kingfisher, and strong muscles in the neck that aid in killing prey. It accomplishes this task by bashing its victims against its perch.

(Parry, 1970)

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Life History and Behavior

Reproduction

The Kookaburra's nest is usually 30 feet high in the air and is typically found in a hole in the Mountain Gum Tree. The female lays between two and four pure white eggs, usually one day apart. The incubation period lasts 24-26 days. When hatched, the chicks are naked and blind, but are generally the same size as the adult. However, both their beaks and tails are shorter than those those of the adults. Their beaks are black when born, but as the first three months elapse they turn a bone color. Additionally, their plumage tends to be darker when the young are first hatched because it is new, but it lightens in the first six months. Sexual maturity and adulthood are reached at one year of age. The adult breeding pair usually has one or more auxiliaries (helpers) who are typically the young who were born the previous year.

(Parry, 1970)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Dacelo novaeguineae

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
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IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Population

Population Trend
Stable
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Dacelo novaeguineae aids in reducing insect outbreaks and was very useful to colonists because it feeds on snakes. It was also very valuable in trade because of its skin. Fishermen may have kept the Kookaburra as a pet.

(Parry, 1970)

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Wikipedia

Laughing kookaburra

The laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) is a carnivorous bird in the kingfisher family Halcyonidae. Native to eastern Australia, it has also been introduced to parts of New Zealand, Tasmania and Western Australia. Male and female adults are similar in plumage, which is predominantly brown and white. A common and familiar bird, this species of kookaburra is well known for its laughing call.

Taxonomy[edit]

Scientific name: The laughing kookaburra was first described in western knowledge systems by French naturalist Johann Hermann in 1783, its specific epithet novaeguineae refers to New Guinea. For many years it was known as Dacelo gigas.[citation needed]

Vernacular name: The species was previously known as the laughing jackass[2][3] and giant kingfisher.[3] Its current name comes from Wiradhuri, an Aboriginal language now effectively extinct.[4]

Distribution[edit]

The laughing kookaburra is native to eastern mainland Australia, and has also been introduced to Tasmania, Flinders Island and Kangaroo Island.

Some were also introduced to New Zealand between 1866 and 1880, but only those released on Kawau Island by Sir George Grey survived. Descendants of these individuals are found there today. Remnants of this population have been seen on the New Zealand mainland near Matakana.

Individuals were released at Perth, Western Australia, in 1898 and can now be found throughout southwest Australia.

Description[edit]

Large bill and head detail.

The laughing kookaburra is a stocky bird of about 45 cm (18 in) in length, with a large head, prominent brown eyes, 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-coloured 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 coloured on the bottom.

Call[edit]

Recorded near Pemberton, Australia

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Perched on a silver wattle (Acacia dealbata) in Tasmania

The name "laughing kookaburra" refers to the bird's "laugh", which it uses to establish territory amongst family groups. It can be heard at any time of day, but most frequently shortly after dawn and after sunset to dusk.

One bird starts with a low, hiccuping 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.[5]

The kookaburra is also the subject of a popular Australian children's song, the Kookaburra.

Behaviour[edit]

Kookaburra with a captured gecko in its beak

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. Most species of kookaburra tend to live in family units, with offspring helping the parents hunt and care for the next generation of offspring.

Feeding[edit]

Catching a worm, Bruny Island, Tasmania, Australia

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 include mice and similar-sized small mammals, large insects, lizards, small birds and nestlings, and most famously, snakes. Small prey are preferred, but kookaburras sometimes take large creatures, including venomous snakes much longer than their bodies..

Breeding[edit]

Juvenile in Sydney. Juveniles have shorter bills with a dark underside, and a strong white on the wing and mantle feathers.

During mating season, the laughing kookaburra reputedly indulges in behaviour similar to that of a wattlebird. 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. However, some observers maintain that the opposite happens - the female approaches the male with her current catch and offers it to him. Either way, 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 two-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 relative 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, with the hook being used as a weapon. The smallest chick may even 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[edit]

Laughing kookaburras are a common sight in suburban gardens and urban settings, even in built-up areas, and are so accustomed to humans that they will often eat out of their hands. It is not uncommon for kookaburras to snatch food out of people's hands without warning, by swooping in from a distance. People often feed them pieces of raw meat.

References[edit]

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