The largest kingfisher species in the world and part of the tree or wood classification of kingfishers, the laughing kookaburra is endemic to Australia but has been introduced to New Zealand in a limited range. Popular in many zoos and aviaries around the world, these birds are familiar in sight and sound to many birders and non-birders alike.
Laughing Kookaburra, Laughing Jackass, Giant Kingfisher, Bushman's Alarm Clock
Dacelo novaeguineae (formerly Dacelo gigas)
Halcyonidae (formerly Alcedinidae)
- Bill: Large, thick, black above and buff below, lower mandible upcurved at tip
- Size: 16-18 inches long with 22-26-inch wingspan, large head, stocky build
- Colors: White, brown, pale blue, black, rufous, buff, gray
- Markings: Genders are similar though the females are larger. The white head is marked with a dark brown crown and a thick eye line that ends at the auriculars. The throat, breast and abdomen are creamy white or pale buff and may be faintly marked with gray scallops. The wings and back are brown with light blue spotting on the scapulars and darker blue edging on the primary feathers. The rump is light blue and the tail is rufous with heavy black barring and white outer tips visible in flight. Legs and feet are greenish-gray. Juvenile birds are similar to adults but more buff underneath and with a fully dark bill.
Small mammals, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish (See: Carnivorous)
Habitat and Migration:
Though endemic to Australia from the eastern region of South Australia through New South Wales and Queensland, the laughing kookaburra has also been introduced to New Zealand and the southwestern tip of Western Australia. Not typically migratory, these birds can expand their range slightly in the winter in search of adequate food and shelter. They prefer open forest and woodland habitats, typically near water sources, but they are also readily found near farms, orchards, agricultural areas, parks and gardens, including in urban and suburban areas.
The laughing kookaburra is aptly named for its raucous call that includes a long series of guttural notes in a “ooo-ooo-ooo-ah-ah-ah” pattern that rises and falls in pitch and volume. The different syllables of the call can be described as chuckles, cackles, hiccups, chortles, hoots or shrieks, and it can be an overwhelming noise when several members of the same family group call at once, throwing their heads back for the most volume. These birds frequently call both at dawn and dusk, giving them the local nickname “Bushman's Alarm Clock.” In old jungle movies, the call of the laughing kookaburra was often used for background noise to simulate monkeys.
These are sedentary, patient birds that use a sit-and-wait approach to hunting, perching quietly on a branch and waiting for prey to pass by, at which time they will drop down nearly vertically to capture it. Small prey can be crushed by the powerful bill, but larger morsels may be thrashed about or beaten against a rock or branch before the bird feeds.
To show aggression and establish dominance, laughing kookaburras may spar with their bills, rubbing them together until one bird relents.
Laughing kookaburras are monogamous birds that mate for life. Annual courtship displays include soft noises and begging behavior, and both birds will work together to excavate a burrow nest, typically in an arboreal termite mound, though the same nest may be reused for several years. Only one brood is raised each year, with 1-5 eggs in the nest. Both parents develop brood patches and share incubation duties for 24-29 days, and they both continue to care for the altricial young for several weeks after hatching. Juvenile birds will remain with their family group for up to a year until they reach maturity themselves, and they will often help raise the next brood of siblings.
Attracting Laughing Kookaburras:
These are bold birds that can quickly learn where easy handouts are available, and they will visit bird feeders, parks and picnic areas where meat scraps are available. They may even take food from willing (or unsuspecting) hands. Providing perches in the backyard can help attract these birds so they can properly hunt.
Laughing kookaburras are not threatened or endangered, but they can be vulnerable to improper pesticide use as toxins accumulate in their prey and that poisoning affects breeding success. Habitat loss is also a concern, but these are adaptable birds that can readily thrive in alternative habitats when necessary.
- Blue-Winged Kookaburra (Dacelo leachii)
- Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)
Photo – Laughing Kookaburra © Lip Kee Yap