The Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) is November's bird of the month.
There are two species of Kookaburra in Australia, the Laughing Kookaburra and the Blue-winged Kookaburra. The resident of the Parklands is the Laughing Kookaburra, with its Blue-winged relative restricted to the northern half of Australia.
The Laughing Kookaburra is a tree-kingfisher, and one of the largest members of the Kingfisher family. It has a white to cream body and head, with brown wings and back. The wings are scattered with light-blue flecks, and the tail is cinnamon above, barred with black. The under-tail is white with black barring. A breeding male has a blue patch on the rump. The head is marked with a brown streak running back from the eye, and up from the bill to the crown. The bill is heavy and dagger shaped, black above and cream below.
The most distinctive feature of the Laughing Kookaburra is its call which has become an Australian icon, and has been used many times as a soundtrack feature of jungle movies. The call has nothing to do with laughter, but is used to warn that they are in possession of the territory.
The Laughing Kookaburra inhabits the eastern side of the Australian mainland on both sides of the Great Dividing Range, and then moving west from Victoria to eastern South Australia. It has been introduced into Tasmania and south-western Western Australia as well as northern New Zealand.
The preferred habitat is open woodlands with clear grassy areas to facilitate hunting, and suitable tree hollows for nesting. They have adapted well to the urban environment.
Like all Kingfishers, the Laughing Kookaburra is an ambush hunter. It will find a suitable perch and wait patiently for prey to appear, and then pounce down to take it with its powerful bill. It is a carnivore and will take anything up from insects, worms and snails, to small mammals and birds. They are famous for preying on lizards and snakes, including venomous species of snake. Their taste for snake may have been a motivation for their introduction into new locations.
Smaller prey are crushed in the bill, while larger prey are taken to a suitable perch and beaten against a rock or branch until killed and softened enough to swallow.
Feeding birds is discouraged in the interest of the bird’s health, and to prevent them associating humans with food. They will quickly learn not to wait to be offered, but to swoop past and snatch food from tables and BBQs.
Laughing Kookaburras are often found in family groups occupying a territory. The dominant male and female form a continuous, monogamous bond, and are they only ones to breed, but siblings from previous seasons may remain and assist with parenting the next generation.
Eggs are usually laid in a bare tree hollow, or a burrow excavated into an arboreal termite nest. In Centennial Park they have been often recorded nesting in the crowns of Canary Palms, excavating hollows among the bases of the palm fronds. Two to five eggs are laid with a day or two between them and are incubated for three to four weeks, incubation being shared between members of the group. The chicks are born blind and helpless and are cared for by the entire group. If times are difficult and the territory cannot support a full family, the chicks can begin to fight among themselves for available food, with the larger, first hatched chicks sometimes killing their smaller siblings.
The chicks remain in the nest for about a month and emerge fledged and ready to fly from the hollow, but require feeding and protection from the group for about three months before they can move away from the territory. If food is available they will remain to assist in the next breeding season.
In the Parklands:
While Kookaburras are a common sight in the Park and around Sydney generally, visitors from overseas often express astonishment that, along with our Black Swans and plentiful Parrots, we have these amazing birds sharing the Park with us. An early morning or late afternoon visit to the Park may provide the wonderful experience of an entire family of Laughing Kookaburras announcing themselves in full voice.
This information was curated by a team of passionate Centennial Parklands volunteers. Find out more about our volunteer programs here.