By Ian Davidson and Chris Tzaros – Wangaratta Landcare & Sustainability
The raucous cackle of the Laughing Kookaburra is an essential feature of our region’s dawn chorus and is instantly recognisable by most people, both by its plumage and voice. It is generally off-white below, faintly barred with dark brown, and brown on the back and wings. The tail is more rufous, broadly barred with black. There is a conspicuous dark brown eye-stripe through the face. It is known as the larger members of the kingfisher family worldwide.
Laughing Kookaburras are found throughout eastern Australia. They have become a pest in places where they have been introduced including Tasmania, the extreme south-west of Western Australia, and New Zealand. Elsewhere in Australia they are replaced by the Blue-winged Kookaburra in central northern and north-western Australia, with some overlap in Queensland. Locally, the Laughing Kookaburra inhabits most areas where there are woodlands with suitable large trees especially the redgum forests cloaking our waterways.
Laughing Kookaburras feed mostly on insects, worms, lizards and crustaceans including yabbies and shrimp, although small snakes, mammals, frogs and birds may also be eaten. Prey is seized by pouncing from a suitable perch. Small prey is eaten whole, but larger prey is killed by bashing it against the ground or tree branch. Like other kingfishers, they spend much of their time quietly observing from an ideally situated dead branch and waiting to surprise unsuspecting prey.
Laughing Kookaburras are believed to pair for life. Nesting occurs in a bare chamber in a relatively large tree hollow with a flattened entrance hole, so that the chicks can reverse backwards and excrete over the side. This is apparently important for carnivorous birds like Kookaburras, so that they can minimize parasites in the nest. Both sexes share the incubation duties and both care for the young. Other Laughing Kookaburras, usually offspring of the previous one to two years, act as ‘helpers’ during the breeding season. Every bird in the group shares all parenting duties.
So, if we want to keep hearing the evocative call of the Kookaburra, we need to protect our large hollow bearing trees upon which they depend.
Photo: Beautifully coloured Laughing Kookaburra by Chris Tzaros (Birds Bush and Beyond).