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  ScienceZoologyBirdsOrder Coraciiformes
laughing kookaburraLaughing Kookaburra

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.

Distribution and Habitat

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 and whole.


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 years.

Other Information

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.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Aves
order Coraciiformes
genus & species Dacelo novaeguineae

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  The Robinson Library > Science > Zoology > Birds > Order Coraciiformes

This page was last updated on February 02, 2015.

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