Dacelo novaeguineae [dA' sel O
nO' vE gin' E E]
The largest member of the kingfisher family is
about 18 inches long and weighs about one pound,
with females being slightly larger than males.
This is also the least colorful member of its
family, having a light beige or white head and
breast with brown wings and back. The head has a
brown stripe like a mask crossing each eye. The
breast has pale gray, wavy lines, and the
outsides of the wings are speckled with pale blue
dots. The male laughing kookaburra often has blue
above the base of the tail. Both sexes have a
rusty red tail with black bars and white tips. In
flight, the white bases of the primary feathers
appear as a large spot on the outer wings. The
upper mandible of the stout bill (which is about
four inches long) is dark brown, contrasting with
the upturned, pale-colored lower bill.
The laughing kookaburra is native to most of
eastern Australia, and hs been introduced into
the extreme southwest corner of Australia,
Tasmania, Flinders Island, and Kangaroo Island.
It prefers open eucalyptus forests and
woodland, riparian habitats along major
watercourses, but has adapted extremely well to
modified or urbanized areas such as farmland,
parks and gardens, and residential zones.
Laughing kookaburras will eat anything they
are able to swallow, with insects, arthropods and
small reptiles, such as skinks and snakes, making
up the majority of their diet. In some areas,
mollusks, crustaceans, frogs and fish are also
consumed. Although kookaburras are kingfishers,
fish is not a major component of their diet, and
some individuals may never have access to that
source of food if their territory lacks a pond or
stream. Small birds, mammals and snakes are taken
less often. When living in close proximity to
humans, kookaburras are well known to accept food
scraps and other offerings, and will readily come
down to an occupied picnic table or kitchen
window for hand-outs.
When hunting, a laughing kookaburra sits
motionless on a perch and watches for prey to
pass by. The bird can keep its head perfectly
still while its body sways with the branch below.
When prey is sighted, the kookaburra swoops down,
lands next to it, and grabs it with its bill. It
carries the food back to a perch and beats it
several times against the branch to kill and
soften the prey. The food is swallowed head first
Laughing kookaburras are highly social and
often live in extended family groups composed of
an adult breeding pair and offspring remaining in
their natal territory as helpers. They are
monogamous and mate for life.
Mating season runs from September through
December. As it approaches, pairs become more
vocal, and the male begins offering courtship
feedings to the female. This behavior reinforces
the pair bond while ensuring the female is
getting ample food prior to egg-laying.
The nest is a bare chamber in a naturally
occurring tree hollow or in a burrow excavated in
an arboreal termite mound. A clutch of 1-5 eggs
can be laid, but 2-3 eggs is more common. A 24-48
hour interval between the 1st and 2nd egg is
typical, with 17-96 hour intervals between
subsequent eggs. Both the male and female (and
helpers to a lesser extent) incubate the eggs,
which hatch after a 24-29 day incubation period.
After hatching, the chicks are fed, brooded and
defended by both sexes (and all members of a
family group, if present). When food resources
are limited, competition between chicks in the
nest can be severe, often resulting in the death
of younger, weaker offspring. Chicks fledge at
32-40 days of age and are cared for by the
parents and helpers for an additional 6-8 weeks.
Female offspring leave their natal territory
at 1-2 years of age, while males disperse at 2-4
Laughing kookaburras are highly sedentary and
territorial. The size of their territory is
dependent upon the quality of the habitat and the
presence of key features within that habitat.
These features include potential nesting hollows,
roosting trees, and predictable food resources.
Maintenance of territory boundaries is achieved
primarily through the use of their distinctive,
well-known laughing vocalizations. In the early
morning and evening, group members gather in
select portions of the territory to engage in a
loud, raucous chorus to announce their presence
to neighboring kookaburra families.
genus & species Dacelo novaeguineae
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