Brief Summary

The four species of Kookaburras (Dacelo) are kingfishers found in Australia, New Guinea, and nearby islands.

The Rufous-bellied Kookaburra (D. gaudichaud) is found in the New Guinea lowlands and nearby islands. This large kingfisher is found mainly in the lower canopy of monsoon and riverine forest, but also in primary rainforest, floodplain forest, parkland, secondary growth, thick coastal palm scrub, mangroves, and gardens. It may also use isolated patches of land in cleared areas, and Teak (Tectona grandis) or Rain Tree (Samanea saman) plantations. For breeding, Rufous-bellied Kookaburras require arboreal termitaria. Although these kingfishers are generally found below 500 m elevation, they have been recorded up to 1300 m. The diet consists of arthropods and small vertebrates, with most foraging in the lower canopy. The nest is excavated in an active termite nest, typically 2 to 40 m above the ground in a tree. Clutch size is 2 eggs and young are fed by both parents. Rufous-bellied Kookaburras are common and widely distributed in New Guinea.

Spangled Kookaburras (D. tyro) are found in southern New Guinea and (historically) the Aru Islands in wooded dry savanna, in thickets of Dillenea alata on swamp margins, and in mosaics of monsoon forest, thickets, and Melaleuca savanna woodland, as well as in dense monsoon and riverine forest. They keep mostly to the understorey, feeding mainly from a perch 1 to 4 m high. The Spangled Kookaburra's nest is excavated in a termitarium above the ground (it is possible that tree cavities are used as well). Although the Spangled Kookaburra is relatively common within its range, the restricted distribution make the species somewhat vulnerable.

Blue-winged Kookaburras (D. leachii) are found in northern Australia and southern New Guinea. They occur in savanna woodland and Eucalyptus open woodland and forest, in tall trees and woodland along watercourses, and in riverine and littoral mangrove and monsoon forest. They avoid areas with a dense understorey. They may also be found in pastures and cultivated land with stands of trees, in plantations far from water, and in large suburban parks and gardens. Although they are found mainly in the lowlands in New Guinea, they can be found locally to 600 m. Where its range overlaps with that of the Laughing Kookaburra (D. novaeguineae), the Blue-winged Kookaburra is usually more common away from water. The diet includes a wide variety of arthropods, snails, earthworms, and small vertebrates. Blue-winged Kookaburras hunts from a perch, typically 2 to 4 m above the ground. They may breed as a pair or in a group of up to 12 individals, but most commonly in a group of 3. The extra "helper(s)" are young from the previous several years. Nests are in tree cavities or in termite nests on the ground or in trees. Blue-winged Kookaburras are fairly common over most of their range.

The Laughing Kookaburra (D. 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)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records:22
Specimens with Sequences:7
Specimens with Barcodes:7
Species With Barcodes:2
Public Records:4
Public Species:1
Public BINs:1
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For the shovel-billed kookaburra, see Clytoceyx.
For other uses, see Kookaburra (disambiguation).

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Kookaburras (genus Dacelo) are terrestrial tree kingfishers native to Australia and New Guinea, which grow to between 28–42 cm (11–17 in) in length. The name is a loanword from Wiradjuri guuguubarra, onomatopoeic of its call. The single member of the genus Clytoceyx is commonly referred to as the shovel-billed kookaburra.

The kookaburra's loud call sounds like echoing human laughter. They are found in habitats ranging from humid forest to arid savanna, as well as in suburban areas with tall trees or near running water. Even though they belong to the larger group known as "kingfishers", kookaburras are not closely associated with water.[citation needed]

Classification and species[edit]

Four species of kookaburra can be found in Australia, New Guinea, and the Aru Islands.

Kookaburras are sexually dimorphic. This is noticeable in the blue-winged and the rufous-bellied, where males have blue tails and females have reddish-brown tails.

Unusually for close relatives, the laughing and blue-winged species are direct competitors in the area where their ranges now overlap.[citation needed] This suggests that these two species evolved in isolation (possibly during a period when Australia and New Guinea were more distant – see Australia-New Guinea.


Kookaburras are carnivorous. Kookaburras are known to eat the young of other birds, mice, snakes, insects and small reptiles. They have also been known to take goldfish from garden ponds. In zoos they are usually fed food for birds of prey.

The most social birds will accept handouts from humans and will take meat from barbecues. It is generally not advised to feed kookaburras meat regularly as it does not include calcium and other nutrients essential to the bird. Remainders of mince on the bird's beak can fester and cause problems.[citation needed]

They are territorial, except for the rufous-bellied, which often live with their young from the previous season.[1] They often sing as a chorus to mark their territory.

Three newly hatched kookaburra chicks
An albino kookaburra


All kookaburra species are listed as Least Concern. Australian law protects native birds including kookaburras.

In culture[edit]

Olly the Kookaburra was one of the three mascots chosen for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. The other mascots were Millie the Echidna and Syd the Platypus.

The distinctive sound of the laughing kookaburra's call is used in filmmaking and television productions, as well as certain Disney theme park attractions, regardless of where in the world the action is set. Kookaburras have also appeared in video games (Lineage II, Battletoads, and World of Warcraft) and at least in one short story (Barry Wood's Nowhere to Go).

In William Arden's 1969 book, The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow, (one of 'The Three Investigators' series for young readers), the laughing kookaburra is integral to the plot.

The children's television series Splatalot! includes an Australian character called "Kookaburra" (or "Kook"), whose costume includes decorative wings that recall the bird's plumage, and who is noted for his distinctive high-pitched laugh.


BFD Records and BFD Productions, which are the distributors and/or copyright holders of most of the garage rock and psychedelic rock compilation albums in the Pebbles (series), have the address Kookaburra, Australia.

Postage stamps[edit]

A kookaburra stamp first issued in 1937.
  • A six pence stamp was issued in 1914.
  • A three pence commemorative Australian stamp was issued for the 1928 Melbourne International Philatelic Exhibition,
  • A six pence stamp issued in 1932.
  • A 38c Australian stamp issued in 1990 features a pair of kookaburras.[2]


An Australian coin known as the Silver Kookaburra minted annually since 1990.[3]


The Australian 12 metre yacht Kookaburra III lost the America's Cup in 1987.[4]


The Australian Men's Hockey team is named after the kookaburra. They are currently (as of 2014) world champions in field hockey.[5]


Further reading[edit]

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