This website uses cookies to provide a rich user experience. Please consult our Cookie Policy to learn about what cookies this website uses, or to control the cookies you receive. You need do nothing if you are happy to receive cookies.
Look and Learn History Picture Library License images from £2.99

The Kookaburra is cousin to the Kingfisher

Posted in Birds, Nature, Wildlife on Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Click on any image for details about licensing for commercial or personal use.

This edited article about birds originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 826 published on 12 November 1977.

kookaburra, picture, image, illustration

The laughing kookaburra

Every morning, people who live in the Australian countryside wake to a wild chorus of crazy laughter. The kookaburras, or laughing jackasses, are greeting the dawn of a new day.

The name kookaburra comes from two Australian aboriginal words meaning “the bird that laughs”. But many of the people living in the Australian bush call it “the settlers’ clock” beause its curiously human hearty laughter is heard so regularly at daybreak.

Kookaburras belong to the kingfisher family. There are about ten species of kookaburra and they are found throughout Australia and New Guinea. They are all very much alike except for slight differences in size and occasional variations in colour.

The largest species of kookaburra is nearly half-a-metre from beak to tail. It has a whitish-brown head and body, with brown-speckled wings and tail.

The top of the head is brown with rather fluffy feathers. Reaching from each eye to the side of the head is a narrow brown streak, which gives the bird the quaint appearance of wearing a pair of born-rimmed spectacles.

Kookaburras usually nest in holes in the trunks of trees, but sometimes, particularly in Queensland, they build their nest at the end of a tunnel which they bore into a termites’ nest. The female lays small white eggs, which she hatches while the male bird brings her food.

Curiously enough, young kookaburras do not “laugh” naturally, but have to be taught to do so by their parents. Before they are able to fly, young kookaburra chicks can be heard trying to mimic their parents’ gurgling chuckles and producing hoarse, croaking sounds until they have learned the jackass’s rollicking call.

Kookaburras live mostly upon rats, mice, sparrows and snakes. When a kookaburra catches a snake in its long, powerful beak, it knocks the reptile’s head on a stone and then proceeds to swallow it head first. An adult kookaburra is quite capable of killing and eating a snake nearly a metre long.

Although the kookaburra helps to keep down the snake population, it can be a pest on farms as it often raids poultry runs for chickens and ducklings.

At times, too, the kookaburra robs its fellow birds, Woe betide the heron that has caught a fish and flies near a kookaburra: with a shout of laughter, the kookaburra swoops on the heron and snatches its prize.

The kookaburra is an opportunist among birds. It is always waiting for something to turn up to provide it with a meal. In fact, it has been called the “Mr. Micawber of the bush” after the fictional character by Charles Dickens whose optimistic outlook it is said to share.

Kookaburras are fond of human company and there are large colonies of them in the suburbs of Australian towns, where they take a heavy toll of the goldfish in garden ponds.

The kookaburras’ final laugh of the day is at dusk when they raise a bedlam of chuckling as they go to nest in the trees.

The kookaburras which construct their nest at the end of a tunnel are not unique. They have a British cousin which does the same. However, the bird found in Britain makes its tunnel in the bank of a stream where it constructs a nest partly of fishbones, the remains of its food.

The creature which does this is the common kingfisher, the most beautiful of all British wild birds. It has a greenish-blue plumage which flashes in the sunlight like an emerald. The back is azure, the tail deep blue, the wing coverts dark green spotted with cobalt, the throat white and the underparts yellowish chestnut.

The kingfisher is fairly common about the rivers in the south of England. It is generally seen perched on a stump or branch overhanging a stream, watching for small fish. It also eats insects and, on the coast, feeds on small crabs.

To all appearances, it is a happy, contented bird, just like the kookaburra. But unlike the kookaburra, it keeps its happiness to itself instead of filling the countryside with crazy laughter, like its relative in Australia.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.