Laughing Kookaburra

Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) perched in small diagonal tree branch
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Scientific Name: Dacelo novaeguineae

Size: 40 to 45 cm.

What does it look and sound like?

The Laughing Kookaburra is instantly recognisable in both plumage and voice. It is generally white below, faintly barred with dark brown, and brown on the back and wings. The tail is more rufous, broadly barred with black, and it has a conspicuous dark brown eye-stripe.

The chuckling voice that gave this bird its name is a common and familiar sound throughout the birds range. The loud “koo-koo-koo-koo-koo-kaa-kaa-kaa” is often sung in a chorus with other birds. The Laughing Kookaburra also has a shorter “koooaa”, which is normally given when accompanied by other members of the species.

The only possible confusion in identity people may have with the Laughing Kookaburra is where its range overlaps with the Blue-winged Kookaburra, D. leachii, in eastern Queensland. The call of the Blue-winged Kookaburra is coarser than that of the Laughing Kookaburra, and ends somewhat abruptly. The Blue-winged Kookaburra lacks the brown eye-stripe, has a blue tail and a large amount of blue in the wing.

Where is it found?

The Laughing Kookaburra occurs throughout eastern Australia (including Tasmania) and the extreme south-west of Western Australia. Its range also extends to New Zealand.

What are its habitats & habits?

It inhabits most areas where there are suitable trees. In the central north and north-west of Australia it is replaced by the Blue-winged Kookaburra. The two do overlap in range throughout Queensland, although the Blue-winged Kookaburra tends to occupy the more coastal areas.

Laughing Kookaburras feed mostly on insects, worms and crustaceans, although small snakes, mammals, frogs and birds may also be eaten. Prey is seized by pouncing from a suitable perch. Small prey is eaten whole, but larger prey is killed by bashing it against the ground or tree branch. Laughing Kookaburras often become quite tame around humans and will readily accept scraps of meat. This ‘pre-processed’ food is still beaten against a perch before swallowing.

Laughing Kookaburras breed from August to January. The birds are believed to pair for life. The nest is a bare chamber in a naturally occurring tree hollow or in a burrow excavated in an arboreal termite mound. Both sexes share the incubation duties and both care for the young. 

Interesting facts

Often other Laughing Kookaburras act as ‘helpers’ during the breeding season. Every bird in the group share all parenting duties.

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Front cover of Australia's Birdwatching Megaspots book showing a picture of an Eastern Spinebill

This species features in my book Australia’s Birdwatching Megaspots

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