Introduction to Kookaburra

You might have seen a kingfisher sitting on a branch looking down on a water source to catch a fish. Kookaburra is the Australian version of kingfishers that have a gray-brownish plumage. This bird can easily camouflage itself due to its excellent feather patterns. This bird belongs to the Alcendinidae Family or the family of kingfishers. It also hunts small reptiles, mammals, and insects and dwells in the woodlands. It is also called laughing kookaburra due to its distinct calls that resemble fiendish, unpleasant laughter. Many movies use its call as a stock sound for certain environments. It is one of the famous birds of Australia that ornithologists are fascinated about. In this segment, we will learn more about this bird and its behavior, habitat, and habits.


What is a Kookaburra Bird?

A kookaburra bird belongs to the family of kingfishers. They also have the same beak shape that a common kingfisher has. This bird has brownish grayish plumage that helps it to hide on the branches. It sits on the branches and peeks down to watch small mammals, insects, earthworms, small invertebrates, venomous small snakes, and reptiles passing by to hunt them. The bird is quite small in shape. It is also known as Dacelo gigas, laughing jackass, bushman’s clock, and laughing kookaburra.

This bird is found in New Zealand and a major part of Australia. This bird is also considered by the natives as a notorious one. It attacks the small ducklings and chickens for food. This bird makes a nest on the tree holes and hatches eggs. A male bird will spend its entire life with a female bird. This is why this species is called monogamous. The young birds stay with the parents until they are fully grown and often help in taking care of the next year’s offspring. Even though this bird is closely associated with the kingfishers, it does not go close to the water sources.


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Taxonomy of Kookaburra

The genus name ‘Dacelo’ was given by William Elford Leach, the English zoologist, in 1815. It is the anagram of Alcedo. This is a Latin word meaning ‘kingfisher’. The kookaburra meaning came from this word.

There are four species in Australia, Aru Islands, and New Guinea. The scientific name of the predominant species is Dacelo novaeguineae. The scientific classification of this bird species is:

  • Kingdom: Animalia

  • Phylum: Chordata

  • Class: Aves

  • Order: Coraciiformes

  • Family: Alcedinidae

  • Subfamily: Halycyoninae

  • Genus: Dacelo

The Other Species Included in this Genus are:

  • Dacelo gaudichaud or Rufous bellied kookaburra

  • Dacelo tyro or Spangled kookaburra

  • Dacelo leachii or Blue-winged kookaburra.


The Natural Habitat of Kookaburra Bird

The laughing jackass is a laughing bird with a distinct call. Its call resembles a devilish laugh of an evil person and has been depicted in many films. It is one of the Australian native birds that have been mentioned in many stories, fables, and urban legends. This bird can be found on the western and eastern sides of the Great Dividing Range. In South Australia, it can be found in the Flinders Ranges, Yorke Peninsula, and Victoria.

Its reputation of killing small venomous snakes made it introduced to different parts of this country. Australia is famous for different species of venomous animals. The presence of this laughing bird helps to control the population in the human habitats. In 1891, this bird was included in the list of Australian Native Birds. The 23 birds on that list have to be strictly preserved. This bill was passed in the Western Australian Parliament. After that, many places in this country were introduced with this species. The Western Australian region is considered the natural habitat of this species. In 1906, it was introduced in Tasmania. Kangaroo Island got this species artificially introduced in 1926. In 1940, it was introduced on Flinders Island.

New Zealand witnessed the introduction of the kookaburra bird in the 1860s. The first place in this country where laughing kookaburras were introduced was Kawau Island. Most of this bird’s population can be seen today in the Hauraki Gulf. The natural habitat of this bird is woodlands and sclerophyll forests. In fact, this bird can only hunt where the forest understory is not bushy but sparse. It can also be found on the roadsides covered with big trees. This bird also hunts in the farmlands, gardens, and parks. It can be commonly seen sitting on the fences, benches, etc.


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Behavior of Kookaburra

Kookaburra tends to form small nuclear groups. It can also be defined as a loose family group formed by a male and a female. As mentioned earlier, this bird is monogamous. It means that it will spend its entire life with one partner. This bird uses its call to mark its territory as all the other great birds do.

The most surprising part is the definition of the loose family group. The offspring grows in a tree hole. They remain with their parents and help them to take care of the offspring born after them. In fact, they also help their parents to hunt and organize food. When the youngsters grow up to become an adult, they also choose a partner and move on to another part of the woodland.


Breeding of Kookaburra

The mating behavior of the laughing jackass bird is quite similar to that of the wattlebird. Both the parents take part in the courtship. The female seems to show a begging position in front of the male bird. The male then offers a fresh catch. While offering the fresh catch, he makes an ‘oo oo oo’ sound. When both the entities find it ideal, they pair for life and start mating to produce offspring every year. Many of the ornithologists stated the exact opposite. The female birds tend to bring a fresh catch and the male birds make a begging position.

Both the partners start to make a nest in the months of August. The egg-laying season begins in the month of September and will continue till November. The first clutch often succeeds. If it fails, they will continue laying eggs in the next summer months. Nearly 3-4 eggs are laid by a female kookaburra. These eggs have a semi-glossy round white shell. The parents will take turns incubating the eggs. In fact, the auxiliaries or the older offspring will also do the same. The eggs hatch and the new offspring take birth after 24-26 days.

The chicks are born with a hook on the upper mandible. This hook disappears before fledging. When food is ample, the chicks do not quarrel. When food is scarce, chicks start quarreling and use their hooks as a weapon. The smallest or the 3rd chick which is smaller in size will be killed by the bigger offspring born during the same clutch. This is a unique behavior of the offspring of the kookaburra Australia. This does not happen most of the time as the other family members participate in finding food and taking care of the chicks.


Feeding

The prime method of hunting of the kookaburra Australia is perching. This is similar to that of the kingfishers. On the other hand, kingfishers do that on stagnant water bodies such as ponds, lakes, etc. kookaburra, on the other hand, waits silently on a branch watching the ground underneath. When a possible prey approaches, it perches down and catches it with its claws and beak. It eats small invertebrates such as insects, worms, snails, etc. It also feeds on lizards, small fish, frogs, small birds, nestlings, and small venomous snakes. It has been found that the kookaburras make a different type of call while feeding the offspring. It is significantly different from that of chorus songs or conventional calls.


Territorial Behavior

These birds display a unique style of defending their territories. They show two different types of aerial flying displays. The first one is a trapeze display where the two neighboring kookaburras will swoop towards each other in midair. In this way, they try to protect each other’s territory. They will do this flying to and fro from one branch to the other of the trees in their territories.

The second display is circular flights on the neighboring territory. It happens when an invading kookaburra makes rounds in the air above the neighboring territory before swooping down. The invader will then fly in circles revolving around the inhabiting kookaburras. During this time, they will use their significant laughing calls to intimidate each other. These displays are done to communicate over long distances. Flight displays are found to be very effective as short-range signals for communication. They can also convey aggression for incoming threats and invasion.

A laughing kookaburra will propel its head and shake its tail while splaying out its wings to ward off intruders. This is done to infuse fear in the intruders. This bird also chases the intruders away from its nest and territory. The laughing kookaburra will open its mouth and the feathers around the cap will ruffle. This is done to make a threat feel intimidated. Visual displays are also done to pass on vigilance information to the other birds in the neighborhood. This is a brilliant understanding between the birds living in harmony. They intend to protect themselves and others from an imminent threat. They also give long laugh-like calls to warn the birds and other members of the same species inhabiting the same ground. They set an alarm-like call that alerts the entire community from danger.


Relationship of Kookaburra With Humans

The kookaburras can be commonly found in human-inhabited areas. The gardens and parks in the suburban areas can be found invigilated and visited by this species. Kookaburras were often found stealing and snatching food from the hands of passersby. This species has also got the name ‘bushman’s clock’ due to its natural behavior of calling during the sunrise and the sunset. This was used as an alarm for the early risers and hard workers in the suburban areas.

Kookaburra Australia can also be found in zoos in different parts of the world. As the Australian government protects this species from the very beginning, it is enlisted as last threatened by the ornithologists. This species is not found on other continents. Its closest relatives can be found in different habitats with different behavior. This bird’ call has been featured in movies, video games, and other interactive entertainment content.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Why is Kookaburra Called a Laughing Jackass?

Ans: As the name suggests, a jackass is a bad person. A laughing jackass means an evil person with a distinct fiendish laugh. Kookaburra is called a laughing jackass as the bird’s call imitates the laugh of an evil person. This is why it is called a laughing bird by ornithologists. Its distinct call has been used many times in the movies, video games, and other entertainment productions to create a mysterious environment.

2. Why Do Kookaburras Form Small Family Groups?

Ans: Kookaburras are monogamous. It means that a male will spend his life with a female. The newborn is taken care of by both parents. A couple forms a small family where the elder offspring often take care of the new offspring. Hence, a small loose group is formed. Upon reaching adulthood, the male and female kookaburras loom for partners and get separated from the main family group.

3. How Can You Relate a Kookaburra With a Kingfisher?

Ans: A kingfisher can be seen patiently waiting on a branch for catching fish in stagnant water. Similarly, a kookaburra does the same. It waits on a branch and observes the understory of a forest silently. When a small invertebrate, reptile, mammal, or snake passes by, it perches like kingfishers and catches them. Kookaburras’ hunting skills are similar to that of the kingfishers. The only difference is the habitat. Kingfishers stay close to stagnant freshwater sources such as ponds, lakes, etc. Kookaburras inhabit the woodlands, farmlands, parks, etc. Unlike kingfishers, the kookaburra is native to Australian forests only.