What’s Lurking In Your Backyard? – #5 Laughing Kookaburra

This series looks at the variety of fauna that may be found in the suburban backyard or local reserve and the diversity may be surprising to some people. The obvious fauna are the vast array of birds that are readily seen by day and some by night, but there are numerous species that are nocturnal. Some of these nocturnal species, people are familiar with as they tramp across the roof at night with what sounds like hobnail boots on, or they hear fighting in the backyard over food and territory. Others are cryptic and may only be seen infrequently when they enter the house for warmth and shelter. Each week I will highlight a different species that may be found in and around Melbourne’s backyards, parks and reserves, some may be familiar others less so.

#5 Laughing Kookaburra
(Dacleo novaeguineae)

The Laughing Kookaburra or Kookaburra is the largest of Australia’s kingfisher species and is probably the most recognisable of Australia’s birds from its call. The call of the Kookaburra is not actually a laugh but a territorial call aimed at warning other birds away. The Kookaburra is also distinctive in its plumage being brown on the back and wings faintly barred with dark brown and off-white below. There is also dark brown eye stripe through the face.

The Kookaburra can be found throughout eastern Australia but in the northern climes of Australia it is replace by the Blue-winged Kookaburra, which has a blue rump and shoulders. The Blue-winged however is more a coastal species. It has also been introduced to New Zealand, Tasmania and South-west Western Australia.

The diet of the Kookaburra is diverse and food is obtained by pouncing on it from a secure perch. The diet consists of frogs, insects and worms, a variety of reptiles, crustaceans and small mammals. Large prey items may be beaten against a trees branch or the ground prior to being consumed whole.

As with many birds of the urban area they can become tame around people and will take food from the hand or at close proximity. Although this is a novelty for people the food obtained is generally not healthy for them and can result in birds developing defects due to nutritional deficiencies. They also make them more vulnerable to attack from prey species such as cats, dogs and foxes. Kookaburras as with other birds can also become dependent on the food source, which can be an issue when the food is no longer available. Individuals may become aggressive or annoying. For more information on why we shouldn’t feed native wildlife follow this link: Feeding Wildlife

The Kookaburra is believed to pair for life and like many Australian birds they utilise tree hollows for nest sites or a termite nest in trees, which they will excavate for their use. The pair share the incubation and rearing of the young and once the young have fledged you will often see the family perched in trees sharing the food gathering and teaching the young. The Kookaburra is also a social species and they can often be seen with the young from previous years helping in the rearing of the fledglings.

As with many Australian birds that utilise hollow trees to nest in the loss of suitable tree hollows is one of the major threats to Kookaburra survival.

© Habitat Ecology 2012

Laughing Kookaburra

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