Critter Of The Week #25: Laughing Kookaburra

Laughing kookaburras are the largest of all the kingfishers, which are more well-known for their ability to catch fish by perching on logs or tree limbs and then diving into the water.

 

 

Their biggest claim to fame is their voice. If you have watched any film with a jungle scene or jungle noises, chances are you have heard their unforgettable call. Their voice has been used for decades as a stock sound for a troop of monkeys or classic jungle noises for decades. The irony is that the only jungles they inhabit are in northern Australia.

 

Their call is so recognizable it was called the bushman’s alarm clock because they will call at sunrise and sunset, and aboriginal Australians and immigrants alike staying in the outback conveniently use their classic laugh as a reminder when to start the day.

 

 

They use this call to signal territorial borders with other birds. Kookaburras often live in loose knit family groups and when one kookaburra starts calling, if other rivals can hear the call, whole families will join in and fill the forest with a ringing laughter.

 

Nowhere else in the world can someone experience such a unique bird.

Scientific Classification

Kingdom : Animalia

Phylum : Chordata

Class : Aves

Order : Coraciiformes

Family : Alcedinidae

Genus : Dacelo

Species : Dacelo novaeguineae

 

Conservation Status

The laughing kookaburra is classified as Least Concern by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature because of their widespread distribution and stable population. They don’t face any large or immediate threats to their survival other than normal human activity. But they tend to do well around human settlements.

 

Physical Description

 

The laughing kookaburra is rather large for a kingfisher; they measure about 17 inches long with a wingspan of around 2 feet. Their most striking feature is their large head and prominent beak. Males are slightly smaller than females but they both look nearly the same with brown and white plumage.

 

 

Diet

The laughing kookaburra is an adept predator and has a diet more like a bird of prey than a typical kingfisher. This is an excellent survival strategy and has helped them spread far and wide and exploit all kinds of food sources that are not dependent on bodies of water.

 

Animals most often consumed by laughing kookaburras are lizards, small mouse-sized mammals, large insects, small birds and hatchlings, and sometimes even venomous snakes.

 

 

They catch prey by waiting patiently on a perch until something passes by. Then, they spring into action and catch them with their large powerful beaks. This is exactly what happened when a kookaburra swept in and grabbed this large huntsman spider!

 

 

 

Reproduction & Life Span 

Laughing kookaburras live around 10-15 years in the wild and as long as 20 years in captivity.

 

To find a mate, the kookaburra female will act much like a baby chick and approach the male begging for food, he will then bring some prey to her and feed her while making soft vocalizations. If the match is right, they will stay together for the rest of their lives.

 

Breeding runs from October - November and when it comes time to lay the eggs, the females will lay about three eggs. Interestingly, they are laid around two days apart.

 

This gives the first two eggs an advantage over the next. The two larger siblings will often attack the smaller one and if food is scarce, they may even eat it. It may seem brutal, but in an environment as dry and hot as Australia, this harsh strategy has somehow helped the kookaburras in the long run. After around five weeks, the babies that survive will fledge.

 

If resources were plentiful, then all three chicks may survive, but if not then the smallest will have lost out.

 

What is even more interesting is kookaburras from previous clutches will help raise the new chicks.

 

Distribution & Habitat 

Laughing kookaburras are native to the eastern mainland Australia only. They have been introduced to many other islands and western Australia and also in New Zealand and Tasmania.

 

Their preferred habitat is sclerophyl forest, or a type of forest characterized by trees with thick, fleshy leaves. These type of trees are found in more dry climates and Australia is famous for its eucalyptus or “gum” trees that share this very characteristic.

 

 

They also thrive in parks and gardens because the ground is often clear and easy to spot prey from perches high above. The same layout is shared by their natural habitat. They also can be found around farmland and grasslands too.

 

Population

It is believed the global population of laughing kookaburras is around 65 million and healthy. They are viewed favorably by most people and enjoy a relatively stable existence alongside mankind and can even benefit from human disturbed landscapes.

 

Relationship with People 

Laughing kookaburras enjoy a relatively positive experience with people. Being native only to Australia, they are relatively well protected and are not highly sought after by the pet trade.

 

They do face common human threats such as tree trimming, deforestation, and accidental agricultural chemical poisoning. But it seems none of these threats are causing widespread population declines.

 

All in all, the Australian Outback would not be the same if it was not for the laughing kookaburra call.

 

CritterFacts CritterKnowledge Ranking: 9

We rank each new Critter of the Week based on how much information and resources we find online about each animal. We rank on a scale of 1-10; 1 being very little information available or only very basic information available and there is a need for more research. An example would be a newly-discovered deep sea creature like the blobfish. A ranking of 10 means there is abundant and easily-accessible information available on all aspects of a species. An example of this would be chimpanzees. We will use this gauge to help us guide future research efforts to learn more about new animals we include in our Critters of the Week.