Kookaburra – cheeky laughing bird

Kookaburra - laughing bird

Kookaburras laughing birds are one of the most unique and beloved bird species in the world, known for their distinctive laughter that echoes through the Australian bush. These charismatic birds are instantly recognisable, with their large heads, sturdy beaks, and striking plumage.

But it’s their playful, cheeky nature and contagious laughter that has captured the hearts of people around the globe. In this article, we’ll jump into the world of the kookaburra, exploring their physical and behavioral characteristics, cultural significance, and conservation status.

Join us as we discover the fascinating world of this iconic Australian bird.

Physical description

Size and Shape

  • Kookaburras are medium-sized birds, measuring around 16-18 inches (40-45 cm) in length from beak to tail.
  • They have a stocky, muscular build with a large head and strong beak.
  • Their wingspan ranges from 20-24 inches (50-60 cm), and they weigh between 10-16 ounces (280-450 g).

Plumage and Coloration

  • Kookaburras have a distinctive and colorful plumage, with dark brown wings and a white belly.
  • They have a large, hooked beak that is gray-black in color, and their eyes are a striking shade of bright yellow.
  • The top of their head and back are brown, and they have a series of intricate blue and white markings on their wings and tail.

Habitat and Distribution

  • Kookaburras are native to Australia and New Guinea, and are found throughout the continent, with the exception of the driest areas.
  • They are typically found in wooded areas, including eucalyptus forests, and near water sources such as rivers and lakes.


  • Kookaburras are known for their loud, distinctive laughter, which can often be heard at dawn and dusk.
  • They have a complex vocal repertoire, including a variety of calls and trills that are used for communication and to establish territory.

Behavioral Characteristics


  • Kookaburras are carnivorous and primarily feed on small animals, such as insects, reptiles, rodents, and small birds.
  • They use their strong beaks to catch and kill their prey, and are known for their ability to hunt and eat venomous snakes.

Nesting and Mating

  • Kookaburras are monogamous and form long-term pair bonds.
  • They typically nest in tree hollows, which are excavated by both male and female kookaburras using their beaks.
  • The female lays 2-4 eggs, which are incubated by both parents for around 24-26 days.
  • The chicks hatch with a soft downy covering, and are fed by both parents until they are able to leave the nest around 4-5 weeks after hatching.


  • Kookaburras are known for their distinctive laughter, which is often used as a territorial call to warn off other birds.
  • They also have a range of other calls, including a “hiccup” sound, a low “grunting” noise, and a harsh, screeching call that is used when threatened.

Social Behavior

  • Kookaburras are generally solitary birds, but may form loose social groups outside of the breeding season.
  • They are highly territorial and will defend their territory aggressively against other kookaburras and other species.

Cultural Significance

Australian Icon

  • The kookaburra is an iconic symbol of Australia and is often featured in Australian culture, including literature, art, and even currency.
  • It is also the subject of many popular songs, stories, and nursery rhymes in Australia, including the famous “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree” song.

Indigenous Culture

  • Kookaburras have a long history of cultural significance in Indigenous Australian culture, where they are often associated with creation stories and spiritual beliefs.
  • They are also considered a totem animal in some Indigenous cultures and may be featured in traditional artwork and storytelling.

Art and Literature

  • Kookaburras have been featured in a wide range of art and literature, including paintings, illustrations, and sculptures.
  • They have also appeared in a number of famous works of literature, including D.H. Lawrence’s “Kangaroo” and Neville Shute’s “A Town Like Alice.”

Popular Culture

  • Kookaburras have been featured in a number of popular culture references, including in films, TV shows, and advertisements.
  • They have also been used as mascots for sports teams and other organisations, including the Australian cricket team.

Conservation Status


  • Kookaburras face a number of threats to their survival, including habitat loss and degradation due to land clearing and development.
  • They are also vulnerable to climate change, which can affect their prey populations and nesting habitats.
  • Hunting and trapping for the pet trade are also potential threats to kookaburras.

Conservation Efforts

  • The kookaburra is listed as a species of “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but conservation efforts are still underway to protect the species and its habitat.
  • In Australia, the kookaburra is protected by law, and efforts are being made to restore and preserve its habitat through measures such as reforestation and protected areas.
  • Education and awareness programs are also being implemented to reduce hunting and trapping, and to promote conservation efforts.

Citizen Science

  • Citizen science programs are also playing an important role in monitoring kookaburra populations and tracking changes in their behavior and habitat.
  • Citizen scientists can contribute data to these programs by reporting sightings, monitoring nesting sites, and participating in other research projects.

How did we encounter Kookaburra the first time?

Our first encounter with a kookaburra was during our first camping trip. Everything was new and unfamiliar to us, and we settled down for the night, eager to get some rest.

However, the next morning, we were abruptly awakened by a strange, raucous laughter coming from outside our tent. At first, I thought it might be a hyena, but then I remembered that Australia doesn’t have hyenas. Curious, we stepped outside and were delighted to discover that the source of the laughter was a kookaburra – a unique and beloved bird that is a symbol of Australia.

Since then, we have encountered these cheeky birds on many camping trips, and have learned to keep our food well guarded, as they have a knack for helping themselves to any unattended snacks!

In fact, they can even ‘collect’ sausages from the hot grill or a plate at the dinner table. 

The butter accident

During one of our camping trips near Brisbane, we had a humorous encounter with a kookaburra. I had just taken a tub of cold butter out of the fridge when the kookaburra suddenly swooped in and attacked it.

The bird’s beak went deep into the butter and wouldn’t come out, despite its big efforts. I had to help the bird by gently grabbing it and separating the butter from its beak.

This incident gave me a newfound appreciation for the size and weight of kookaburras. They are the largest member of the kingfisher family and can grow to the size of a football.

Despite their size, they are skilled hunters, and typically prey on small animals, insects, and snakes. They perch quietly on a tree and glide down onto their prey when ready.

In Australia, there are two types of kookaburras: the blue-winged kookaburra, found in Northern Australia, and the laughing kookaburra, native to eastern Australia.

While they may sometimes get themselves into mischief, these birds are an important part of the Australian ecosystem and culture, and we are fortunate to be able to witness them in their natural habitats.

Where spotted: Laura Station QLD, Brisbane QLD, Darwin NT and many other places

In conclusion, the kookaburra is a unique and beloved bird that is cherished by people around the world for its striking appearance, playful nature, and contagious laughter.

While the species is not currently considered to be threatened, it faces a number of challenges, including habitat loss and hunting, which could impact its long-term survival.

Through ongoing conservation efforts, including habitat restoration, legal protections, and education and awareness programs, we can help to ensure that the kookaburra continues to thrive and delight future generations.

Let us all work together to preserve this cheeky laughing bird for many more years to come.

Kookaburra laughing bird – more information

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