Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Bird of the Month: Laughing Kookaburra

Posted on 16 April, 2024 by Ivan

Welcome to Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are blessed to have the brilliant Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, accompanied by their stunning photos.

Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae)

The sausage thief, Laughing Kookaburra mug shot. Photo by Jane Rusden

As we all know, the logistics of picnicking can be challenging when there’s a hungry, daring and intelligent Laughing Kookaburra around. I’ve watched a group of young kids cook sausages on the BBQ while camping, getting thoroughly bullied by a Kookaburra as they attempted and failed, to protect their cooking food. The bird dropped off a perch, wings out and gaining speed to dart deftly between the children, and snatch a fat sausage off the BBQ plate in its powerful bill. The poor kids were helpless against the crafty Kookaburra, what’s more the bird knew it, as did the kids. 

Laughing Kookaburra, the blue on the wing and rufous on the tail and rump is clearly visible. Photo by Damian Kelly.

An iconic bird that is always identified by its loud, often communal ‘laughing’ calls that echo throughout the bush. In reality these calls are mostly about delineating territories. Originally only resident in eastern Australia, it has been introduced to Western Australia, Tasmania and King Island. Even a few birds were introduced into New Zealand. It was popular amongst the early European settlers due to its abilities in snake catching and this probably contributed to the desire to introduce it into other areas. 

Due to its adaptability, it can be found in a wide range of habitats ranging from open forest to rainforest, parks, suburban gardens, farming areas and even sugar cane fields. It has adapted quickly to altered habitats and will readily take food from humans. In some areas studies have shown that up to 75% of their diet comes from people feeding them. They also take reptiles, insects, earthworms, yabbies and rodents. Small birds and native marsupials can also be part of their diet in some areas. 

Kookaburras are usually sedentary, remaining in the same territory all year. Although they perch in trees, the bulk of their prey is caught on the ground. Sitting on an elevated tree perch, power pole or on powerlines, they sit motionless watching for movement on the ground before diving down to collect their prey.  

As well as being an adaptable predator, the Kookaburra has a complex social structure. Generally, a breeding pair are assisted by offspring from previous broods who help with feeding. Some of these helpers can stay for up to 4 years. Communal behaviour also extends to roosting at night where a whole group will roost close together on the same branch. 

Laughing Kookaburra with a skink meal. Photo by Jane Rusden

Nests are usually in tree hollows, although in suitable areas they may also utilise arboreal termite nests. Usually only one clutch of 2-4 eggs is laid each season. Asynchronous hatching in the nest results in a hierarchy in size of the nestlings and in times of food shortage some weaker birds will not survive. Unfortunately, some decline in populations has been observed as the bird is at risk from human activities ranging from pesticide use to the loss of tree hollows as a result of land clearing. 

Laughing Kookaburra emerging from a nest hollow, having fed its young. Photo by Damian Kelly


Find more information on the Laughing Kookaburra, including their calls, click here.














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