Kookaburras at Easter

Distinctive voice

The laughing kookaburra – dacelo novaeguineae – is endemic to eastern Australia. Regular visitors to the Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve will have heard the kookaburras’ characteristic chorus in the mornings and at dusk over the summer. This group chorus is regarded as a territorial measure and each group has a unique vocal signature. Kookaburra groups are more unified leading up to and during the breeding season – over spring and summer – and when the younger members become independent, kookaburras are quieter (Legge, 2004).

Two birds

These two kookaburras were photographed in the middle portion of the Reserve, the first near the dam and the second on the north-south track.

Shows young kookaburra on eucalypt branch, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Young kookaburra, blue patterning on wings, tail up, brown rumped

Shows young kookaburra on eucalypt branch, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Young kookaburra, lower beak just starting to change to adult bone colour; characteristic brown stripe through eye

Adult kookaburra perched on eucalypt branch, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Adult kookaburra: paler head feathers than young bird

Adult kookaburra perched on eucalypt branch, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Adult kookaburra, individualised brown stripe through eye which is maintained between moults and bone coloured lower beak

Whilst male birds usually have blue rumps and females brown, both males and females can have blue in the feathers of their rump as well as brown (Legge, 2004). So, these birds could be either male or female. The shade of the beak, however, shows that the bird with the dark upper and lower beak is still young, still a fledgling. The other, however, has the bone colour of the lower beak characteristic of the adult kookaburra.

Family groups

The kookaburra lives in family groups, in traditional territories that tend to endure over time and which they defend year round. Their territory size varies with group size and depends on the availability of resources; that is, nesting hollows, roosting trees and food throughout the year. One group observed in the Reserve has five birds but there may be more than one group.

Interestingly, the group cooperates in caring for the young of the breeding pair – a characteristic shared by magpies, fairy-wrens and others (Legge, 2004). Laughing Kookaburra groups have a socially dominant pair which is also monogamous, producing the young in each group. Helpers are recruited from the young; thus, the group tends to remain related.

The name sounds like the sound

The kookaburra was one of the first animals to be described by European scientists (Legge, 2004). Its name is “derived from the Wiradhuri language…spoken by people living inland of Sydney and the Blue Mountains [and] only came into common usage by settlers in 1867”. Further, “although there may have been as many as 40 variations of the name spoken by different Aboriginal groups, most kept the basic onomatopoeic quality, and were recognised and reported in various settlers’ accounts…[for example]…cocopara, cuck unda, akkaburra, koaka, taratook” (p.4).

References and further resources

Legge provides the fascinating ecology of the kookaburra, including history and their social, helping, breeding and dispersal behaviour in her publication:

  • Legge, S. (2004) Kookaburra: King of the bush. CSIRO Publishing: Collingwood

For a run-down on the kookaburra and its habits:

For another summary of kookaburra habits, conservation threats and a sound file of the kookaburra call

For a thorough explanation of kookaburra life – drawing further on the work of Legge:

For some great images of kookaburras

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