Kookaburra Laughs Like a Human & Loves to Eat Snakes

The kookaburra is a stocky Australian bird with a loud and distinctive bird call that sounds like human laughter. Hence its other names of Laughing Kookaburra and Laughing Jackass. A group of kookaburras is called “a riot of kookaburras”. Obviously, because of the riotous noise they make. Its scientific name is Dacelo novaeguineae.

Kookaburra Description What is a Kookaburra?

Photo: Kookaburra on a branch

The kookaburra is a large kingfisher bird, measuring 28-45 cm in length and weighing about 0.5 kg. It has a large square head with a very thick neck with strong neck muscles. In addition, the kookaburra has a large beak, which is almost as long as its head.

The kookaburra has a distinctive brown eye-stripe across its face and another fainter brown stripe on top of its head. Its large brown eyes give it excellent vision. The kookaburra's upper plumage is streaked in shades of dark brown. The wings are brown with blue or white freckles. Its lower plumage is off-white in colour. It has a reddish-brown tail with bands of black. The colours of its plumage with shades of white, black, and brown camouflage it well against its surroundings, making it difficult for both predator and prey to see it.

To conserve energy, the kookaburra flies slowly. It also lowers its metabolism and body temperature by up to 9.1°C during the night. Its feathers are thicker, with about 25% better insulation than birds of its size to conserve body heat.

There are few differences between the male and female kookaburra. The female is, however, slightly larger than the male.

The average lifespan of a kookaburra is 15-20 years. They have one partner for life. Kookaburras live in loosely-knit family groups with clearly defined territories. The family unit consists of a monogamous male and female pair and up to 6 helper birds. These helper birds are older generations of offspring who help their parents to care for the next generation of siblings.

Kookaburras don't usually need to drink water as they get their requirements from their food. They do, however, love to bathe. This is probably a characteristic from their primordial past as kingfishers.

25 Kookaburra Facts

  1. The kookaburra is the world’s largest kingfisher.
  2. It is a stocky bird with a bird-call that sounds like human laughter.
  3. For this reason, its other names are Laughing Kookaburra and Laughing Jackass.
  4. A group of kookaburras is called a riot because they sound like a crowd of noisy humans.
  5. The word kookaburra came from the Australian Aborigine word guuguubarra and was derived from the sound the bird makes.
  6. It is pronounced cook-a-bar-ra.
  1. Kookaburras lives in eucalyptus forests throughout eastern Australia.
  2. The kookaburra flies slowly to conserve energy.
  3. It also lowers its metabolism and body temperature at night to save energy.
  4. Male and female kookaburra are similar in appearance. The female is a bit larger.
  5. Even though the kookaburra is a kingfisher bird, it doesn't fish much.
  6. However, it uses the same perch and pounce tactics used by kingfishers to catch its prey and fly back to its perch.
  7. Its diet consists of large insects, frogs, fish, crabs, and crayfish.
  8. It also eats small animals, other birds.
  9. It loves eating small snakes.
  10. It bashes large prey such as snakes and lizards against a branch to kill them.
  11. The kookaburra has very strong neck muscles, compared to other birds, because of this bashing behaviour.
  12. Kookaburras don't drink much water; they get all they need from their food.
  13. But they love to bathe in water.
  14. Kookaburras are monogamous. They pair for life.
  15. They can become quite tame around humans.
  16. Older Kookaburras are most vulnerable to airborne predators.
  17. Young chicks also fall prey to quolls, goannas and snakes.
  18. A kookaburra held alone in captivity will not laugh.
  19. A kookaburra lives for 15-20 years.

Kookaburra Sound (Bird Call) What Noise does a Kookaburra Make?

The kookaburra sounds like like a human laughing. It starts with a slow chuckle 'oooo' and then builds up to boisterous 'ha ha ha'. The Laughing Kookaburra isn't laughing at all. It is a communal bird call to establish the family unit's territory and warn off other kookaburras. The Kookaburra's laugh is a social behaviour. If a kookaburra is held alone in captivity, without other kookaburras around, it will not laugh.

The kookaburra's call is usually heard at dawn and dusk, but it may also be heard at any other time of the day. Researchers have found that members of a family unit laugh in a similar manner, as though they are all laughing from the same "hymn sheet". The family unit vocalises together like a chorus to amplify their claim to their territory. If any rival groups are within ear-shot, they too may respond, filling the air with, what sounds to us humans as, a cacophony of raucous laughter.

Kookaburra Diet What do Kookaburras Eat?

Kookaburras eat lizards, frogs, snakes, small animals, insects, worms, fish, crabs, and even other birds.

The kookaburra uses 'perch and pounce' tactics typical of kingfishers. It usually perches on a branch and waits for its prey to pass by. It then swoops down and grabs its victim with its powerful beak. If the prey is small, the kookaburra will swallow it whole. If its victim is too large to eat whole, the kookaburra bashes it against a hard surface to break it into small consumable chunks. This bashing behaviour has resulted in the kookaburra having such strong neck muscles compared to other birds.

Kookaburra Loves to Eat Snakes

The way it eats snakes is neat. It swoops down and grabs the snake from behind its head and then flies up into the air and drops the snake to kill it. Sometimes it bashes the snake against a branch or rock to kill it and soften it up, or break it up into smaller pieces.

(This is an excerpt from the original TrishansOz page written in 1997 when Trishan was 9 years old.)

Kookaburra Habitat Where Do Kookaburras Live?

Kookaburras live in eucalyptus forests and woodlands throughout eastern Australia. They nest in tree hollows or in any hole large enough for an adult bird to nest in.

Photo: Diagram of Kookaburra distribution

They have adapted well to humans and are frequently found in urban parks and gardens. Humans have also introduced kookaburras to Tasmania, Western Australia and even New Zealand.

The kookaburra is a sedentary territorial bird. That is to say, it marks its territory and lives there year after year. The territory of a family group can range between 16 to 244 hectares depending on the availability of prey in the particular habitat. Birds will honour the domain of another and will not enter it for any reason, even if it means catching a meal in its neighbour's territory.

Kookaburra Reproduction & Life Cycle Kookaburra Chicks

Photo: Kookaburra chick in tree hollow

Kookaburras reach sexual maturity and adulthood at one year of age. They are believed to pair for life. Their nesting season starts in September and finishes in January. The birds nest in a large cavity in a tree trunk or in a hole made in a tree-dwelling termite mound.

The female kookaburra usually lays three eggs 1-2 days apart. The female incubates the eggs at night and the male and offspring of the previous one to two years also help in incubating the eggs. In this way, every bird in the family shares parenting duties. The incubation period lasts 24-26 days. Usually, the first egg to be laid in a clutch will be a male, and the second egg will be a female. There is a high level of siblicide (killing a brother or sister) among kookaburra hatchings. The third chick rarely survives. It is attacked by the other two chicks resulting in a 50% death rate of the third chick.

The young birds are born naked and blind. All members of the family, that is, the parents and older siblings from the previous brood, help feed and care for the young chicks.

Instead of being forced out on reaching maturity, most young kookaburras stay and help their parents defend the family's territory and to help raise and protect further offspring.

Kookaburra Predators & Threats What Kills Kookaburras?

kookaburra flying

Photo: Kookaburra in flight

Older Kookaburras are most vulnerable to airborne predators such as goshawks, whistling kites, owls, and eagles. In more recent times, they have also fallen prey to introduced animals such as feral cats and foxes. Possums are the primary predators of kookaburra eggs. Young chicks also fall prey to quolls, lizards such as the goannas and snakes.

The most serious threat to kookaburras is habitat lose, namely the destruction of eucalyptus forests and woodlands in which it hunts and tree hollows in which it nests.

Kookaburras are relatively slow-flying birds. This makes them vulnerable to impacts with motor vehicles because they can't fly fast enough to avoid an oncoming vehicle.

Being a carnivorous bird, the kookaburra is also an opportunist and will try to eat road-kill, animals knocked down by road vehicles. Unfortunately, the kookaburra is a slow flier. It finds it very difficult to get airborne quickly to get out of the way of oncoming traffic. As a consequence, the bird itself becomes a road fatality.

Forest fires in Australia are fast and intense. They destroy large tracts of forest in which kookaburras live.

One Crazy Kookaburra

We have a crazy Kookaburra living in our garden. He thinks he is our alarm clock. He taps really hard and long on our lounge room window early each morning. He wakes us all up. When Dad decided to cover up the window with a plastic sheet, the kookaburra decided to dive-bomb another window. I am surprised he hasn't broken the window yet because he crashes so hard into it. Or even killed itself!

(This is an excerpt from the original TrishansOz page written in 1997 when Trishan was 9 years old.)

Kookaburra Conservation Status Is the Kookaburra endangered?

The kookaburra is not endangered. They are protected by strict laws. The kookaburra population is estimated to be around 65 million birds. But as with all Australian native animals, they may, however, be in decline due to human impacts such as habitat destruction.

Photo: Blue-winged kookaburra

Blue-winged Kookaburra

Another type of kookaburra that lives in Australia is the Blue-winged Kookaburra, which lives in eastern Queensland. It has light coloured eyes, does not have the brown eye-stripe, and has a blue tail and mostly blue wing features.

Its call is similar to that of the Laughing Kookaburra but ends more abruptly.

Kookaburra Song by Marion Sinclair Controversial Australian Nursery Rhyme

The popular Australian nursery rhyme "Kookaburra Song" or "The kookaburra sits in the old gum tree" was written by Marion Sinclair in 1932. It was recently embroiled in controversy when the current copyright owner of the song claimed that the song Down Under by the famous Australian pop group, Men At Work, had plagiarised a part of the music from this song.

Kookaburra Song – Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree