Kookaburras are terrestrial tree kingfishers of the genus Dacelo native to Australia and New Guinea, which grow to between 28–42 cm (11–17 in) in length. The name is a loanword from Wiradjuri guuguubarra, onomatopoeic of its call. The single member of the genus Clytoceyx is commonly referred to as the shovel-billed kookaburra. The kookaburra's loud call sounds like echoing human laughter. They are found in habitats ranging from humid forest to arid savanna, as well as in suburban areas with tall trees or near running water. Even though they belong to the larger group known as "kingfishers", kookaburras are not closely associated with water.
Classification and Species
Four species of kookaburra can be found in Australia, New Guinea, and the Aru Islands.Kookaburras are sexually dimorphic. This is noticeable in the blue-winged and the rufous-bellied, where males have blue tails and females have reddish-brown tails.
- Rufous-bellied kookaburra (Dacelo gaudichaud). (lowland New Guinea, Saibai island and Australia)
- Spangled kookaburra (Dacelo tyro). (Aru Islands, southern New Guinea and Australia)
- Blue-winged kookaburra (Dacelo leachii). (northern Australia, southern New Guinea)
- Laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae). (native to eastern Australia, introduced to southwest) Unusually for close relatives, the laughing and blue-winged species are direct competitors in the area where their ranges now overlap. This suggests that these two species evolved in isolation (
Kookaburras are almost exclusively carnivorous, eating mice, snakes, insects, small reptiles, and the young of other birds; they have also been known to take goldfish from garden ponds. In zoos they are usually fed food for birds of prey.
The most social birds will accept handouts and will take meat from barbecues. It is generally not advised to feed kookaburras ground beef or pet food as these do not include enough calcium and roughage. They are territorial, except for the rufous-bellied, which often live with their young from the previous season. They often sing as a chorus to mark their territory.
Olly the Kookaburra was one of the three mascots chosen for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. The other mascots were Millie the Echidna and Syd the Platypus.
The distinctive sound of the laughing kookaburra's call is used in filmmaking and television productions, as well as certain Disney theme park attractions, regardless of African, Asian and South American jungle settings. Kookaburras have also appeared in video games (Lineage II, Battletoads, and World of Warcraft) and at least in one short story (Barry Wood's Nowhere to Go).
In William Arden's 1969 book, The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow, (one of 'The Three Investigators' series for young readers), the laughing kookaburra is integral to the plot. The children's television series Splatalot! includes an Australian character called "Kookaburra" (or "Kook"), whose costume includes decorative wings that recall the bird's plumage, and who is noted for his distinctive high-pitched laugh.