Laughing Kookaburra

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Profile

The laughing kookaburra is a medium-sized bird living in Australia. Many people think these birds look like kingfishers, and these birds actually are in the same order as kingfishers. Unlike most kingfishers, laughing kookaburras have a rather dull coloring. These birds do have a small patch of blue-green feathers on their wings. Their wings and tail feathers are mostly brown or black, and their head and belly are white/cream with small light brown markings. Laughing kookaburras are different than most birds in that they have a bi-colored beak. The top is gray or black while the bottom is a cream color. There are three other species of kookaburras besides the laughing kookaburra. These are as follows: rufous-bellied kookaburra, spangled kookaburra, blue-winged kookaburra. One of the laughing kookaburra’s other names is the bushman’s alarm clock, due to their habit of sounding their distinctive calls at sunrise each day.

Size

Laughing kookaburras are rather large birds. They are, in fact, the largest birds in the kingfisher order. Adult females, which are slightly larger than adult males, can be from 15 to 18 inches (39-45 cm) long. They are rather heavy for birds and weigh up to one pounds (455 g). Like all kingfishers, kookaburras have long beaks. This species can have a beak up to four inches (10 cm) long!

Diet

In the wild, these birds will eat almost anything they can swallow. Unlike many birds, laughing kookaburras are patient sit-and-wait predators. Because of their large size, kookaburras can consume skinks, frogs, fish, mollusks, snakes (even venomous ones), and crustaceans along with the normal insects. Although fish is listed above, and kookaburras are kingfishers, these aquatic animals do not make up much of this bird’s diet. Small prey is killed by crushing its jaw while larger prey, such as snakes, are beaten to death against a branch. In the zoo they are fed mice, crickets, and meal-worms. While adults are feeding their chicks, they are fed extra bugs. In some areas, kookaburras are tame enough to eat out of peoples’ hands!

Habitat and Range

Like koalas, the laughing kookaburra’s favorite habitat is eucalyptus forests. They will also live in farmland, parks, gardens, and residential areas. These birds live in eastern Australia and south-western Australia. The entire east coast and about a quarter of the way to the west is inhabited by these birds. Only a small area in the extreme south-west corner is also their home. They were introduced into this area as well as a few islands off the coast of Australia, including Tasmania. Laughing kookaburras also live in a small part of New Zealand.

Call

There is obviously a reason for this birds name. Their call sounds almost like a human laugh. It has been described as sounding like “kook-kook-kook-ka-ka-ka.” This call is the one mainly used to warn other individuals of where territorial boundaries are. Other, shorter calls are used to find mates, raise alarm, and beg for food.

Status and threats

Laughing kookaburras, despite their large size, still have many predators. This is especially true because they live in Australia, a land notorious for its deadly animals. These birds can fall prey to other birds such as owls, eagles, hawks, and falcons. Eggs, chicks, and parents protecting their young are vulnerable to pythons, monitor lizards, quolls, foxes, and domestic cats. The IUCN Redlist classifies the laughing kookaburra as “Least Concern.” There are very few human threats to these birds, but the main one is habitat destruction. These birds are not extremely picky about where they live, habitat loss is not a major concern. These birds are essential in the ecology of the places they live in that they control the small-animal population.

Reproduction

In the wild, laughing kookaburras mate between September and December (remember this is spring in the Southern hemisphere where they live). These birds are special in that they live together as an extended family unit. Relatives may help take care of the young. Like woodpeckers, kookaburras nest in tree cavities, but unlike woodpeckers they cannot make their own holes. They instead rely on natural cavities such as a place a branch fell from a tree.

After mating, the female lays a clutch of up to five eggs (2-3 is most common). The second egg is laid one to two days after the first one, and other eggs may be laid up to four days apart. The eggs incubate for three to four weeks before they hatch. Any family members that are present work together to help protect they vulnerable young. They must also work together to provide enough food, as sometimes chicks die of starvation. The young laughing kookaburras are able to fly by the time they are 40 days old, but they are still cared for for another 6-8 weeks. Because these birds do not migrate, the young will stay in the same area for the next few years and help their parents care for the next few years’ young. This will give them practice for taking care of their own children. In the wild, laughing kookaburras live up to 15 years, and they can survive up to twice as long in captivity.

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Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Laughing kookaburra – JJ Harrison
  • Mystery animal – Tsarli
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