Coraciiformes Taxon Advisory Group -
Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaguineae)
SSP Manager: Mark Myers - Woodland Park Zoo
The Laughing Kookaburra is about 17 inches (45 centimeters) long and is the largest member of the Kingfisher family. These birds have large bluntly flattened bills that end in a sharp point. The upper side of the bill is black and the underside is usually light brown. A heavy dark stripe extends through the eyes. Laughing Kookaburras are predominantly brown, though the head and undersides are grayish white. The crown is usually brown. The male Laughing Kookaburra has blue feathers at the top of his tail, while the female's tail is colored with brown feathers. Males also have blue wing patches, whereas the female's are gray. Laughing Kookaburras do not have separated toes; rather, the toes at the middle and the outside are fused.
Estimates of density in New South Wales and Victoria vary from 0.05 to 0.8 individuals per hectare. Using the average density of birds and extrapolating out the values to cover the available habitat, this would yield an approximate population of 66.5 million birds.
Laughing Kookaburras make their homes in Eastern and Southwestern Australia. At the time of the arrival of European settlers, the natural range was eastern Australia from Cape York Peninsula, east and west of the Great Dividing Range, to Victoria, west to Flinders Range and Cape Otway. Multiple introduction attempts eventually led to the birds successfully colonizing the southwest first in 1897, then Tasmania in about 1905, Kangaroo Island in 1926 and finally Flinders Island in 1940. Several attempts were made to introduce the birds to New Zealand between 1866 and 1880, though they only survive in small sections.
Open, dry eucalypt forest, woodland, wooded farmland, and watercourses, homesteads, city parks, and gardens.
The laughing vocalization delivered by the kookaburra is a territorial call delivered by two or more birds simultaneously. This call is typically given at dusk and dawn and lasts at least 6-8 seconds. A video of the Laughing Kookaburra vocalization can be seen by clicking here (Kookaburra.MOV 4.87mb). Video courtesy of Natural Encounters, Inc.
Pairs of Laughing Kookaburras remain together for life, which in the wild can be at least 10-12 years. Courtship behaviors are not very elaborate and consist of the male beginning to feed the female approximately six weeks prior to the onset of egg-laying. The courtship feeding increases in frequency as the egg lay date approaches and then ends roughly three days after the clutch is complete. The egg-laying season in southeast Australia is between September and December.
Laughing Kookaburras reach sexual maturity at one year of age. They usually nest in a tree cavity, but have also been known to use holes in the walls of human-made structures or even termites' nests. Between two and three white eggs are deposited and incubated for between 18 and 22 days. Both parents are involved in this, as in all, chick-rearing processes. Between 20 and 30 days after they hatch, the young Laughing Kookaburras will fledge. They remain with their parents for some time, often aiding in the incubation of other broods. Although some leave earlier, many Laughing Kookaburras stay with their parents for up to four years before taking a mate.
Kookaburras are predacious birds consuming a large variety and vertebrate and invertebrate prey items including snakes, lizards, frogs, fish, adult and nestling birds, and insects. The majority of the food acquired is caught from the ground with a small amount being taken from shallow waters.