Laughing kookaburra

 Dacelo

 Most of us know only too well the distinctive sound of the Kookaburra, it is usually the first to wake us up, and the last of the bird calls heard at sun down. It tilts its head upwards and the tail moves up and down when making this distinctive sound

The Laughing Kookaburra is found on the east coast of Australia living in open forest, woodlands, and often seen in suburban gardens, but also south east SA with introduced colonies in southern WA and Tasmania, living in open forests, Eucalypt woodlands and often seen in suburban parks, gardens, picnic grounds, schools and caravan parks due to human feeding. It is the largest of the Kingfisher family that has more than 80 species the world over, Australia is home to 10 species, the Laughing Kookaburra being one.

Plumage of both adults is similar except for the male having extensively more flecked blue feathers on the lower back and tail. They have 3 toes forward and 1 backward with the 2nd and 3rd toes joined for most of their length. The fused toes help them in excavating nests, but make walking almost impossible so they hop/jump when on the ground.

 Kookaburras form permanent pairs, are very good parents and take so long to rear their young to independence that more than one clutch per seasons is unlikely. Breeding is September-January and after a short courtship to renew their bond they clear out their nest usually situated in the hollow of a tree or any cavity large enough for the adults such as a termite mould (so once again leave those old limbs and hollows on trees), the nest will have a flattened entrance hole so that the chicks can reverse backwards and excrete over the side. They lay 1-4 white rounded eggs; incubation is 24 days by female and other group members, as is feeding and parental duties.

Fledging takes approx. 5 weeks with the babies grabbing any food that is brought into the hollow often attacking, sometimes fatally, the youngest chick. After they begin to fly the fledglings are fed by the adults of the group for up to 13 weeks and instead of being forced out of the territory, most stay to help their parents defend boundaries and protect further offspring.

The Kookaburra rarely eat fish as one might assume from its Kingfisher name, nor do they drink much water, being like raptors (birds of prey like eagles, owls) and getting most of their moisture from the blood of their prey. Apart from that they are not selective feeders, eating a high protein live diet of small snakes, lizards, rats, mice, snails, worms, grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas, beetles, caterpillars, ants, yabbies & crayfish, spiders, frogs, the odd small bird, various insects and invertebrates. They watch in silence from a vantage point in a tree, and then swoop down to catch the prey. They kill their prey by holding it in their strong beak, and beating it against a tree branch.                        

In favourable conditions they can live up to 20 years old or more.

Kookaburras are family oriented birds. Their groups usually consist of one dominant breeding pair, other adult non-breeding birds (who share the load with incubation, baby sitting, feeding, teaching skills necessary for survival and defending territory boundaries), immature birds from previous broods and juveniles .The adult non-breeding birds can be male or female, but not necessarily, progeny of the dominant pair. They co-exist in a strict hierarchy. The group is maintained in this order whilst the non-breeding adults are content to remain in their position in this order. As soon as non-dominant birds decide to challenge for a change in the status quo they are either subdued or forced to leave the group – the latter is most often the case