Laughing kookaburra

Dacelo novaeguineae (Hermann, 1783)

Order: Coraciiformes

Family: Halcyonidae

New Zealand status: Introduced

Conservation status: Introduced and Naturalised

Other names: kookaburra, laughing jackass

Geographical variation: New Zealand birds are assigned to the subspecies novaeguineae

Laughing kookaburra. Perched adult. Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia, September 2010. Image © Tony Whitehead by Tony Whitehead Tony Whiteheadwww.wildlight.co.nz

Laughing kookaburra. Perched adult. Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia, September 2010. Image © Tony Whitehead by Tony Whitehead Tony Whiteheadwww.wildlight.co.nz

Kookaburras are the largest of the kingfishers. They have the big heads, long bills, and relatively small bodies and tails typical of the Southwest Pacific forest kingfishers to which they are related. They are native to eastern Australia and were introduced into Kawau Island, Hauraki Gulf, by Sir George Grey in 1866, and to Wellington, Nelson, and Otago between the 1860s and 1880. Only the Kawau population successfully established and subsequently colonised the adjacent mainland.

Unmistakable because of their large size and typical kingfisher shape. They have a pale head with dark brown ear-coverts, off-white underparts, brown back, and black-barred rufous tail, with blue on the rump and upper wing-coverts. The sexes are similar, but females tend to be larger.

Kookaburras have a repertoire of different vocalisations including their famous laugh (koo-hoo-hoo-hoo-ha-ha-ha-HA-HA-hoo-hoo-hoo) which is a territory song usually heard at dawn or dusk throughout the year and delivered by a number of birds simultaneously. Individual birds repeat the song for between 5 and 8 seconds. Six shorter calls have been recorded relating to courtship, feeding, contact, and danger.

Distribution and habitat

Found on Kawau Island, Hauraki Gulf, and the adjacent mainland east coast from the Whangarei district south to Kaukapakapa and Riverhead, and the southern Waitakere Ranges. Birds have also been recorded further north from the Bay of Islands. Sightings of single birds from elsewhere in the North Island (Cape Maria van Diemen, Waikato, Gisborne) and from the South Island (Westland, Otago) are regarded as vagrants, either from Northland or Australia. Kookaburras inhabit open wooded country and forest margins.

Population      

Scarce, with a restricted geographic range and a probable total population of under 500. The New Zealand population is thought to be stable.

Ecological and economic impacts

The New Zealand population is too small and restricted to cause widespread ecological impacts, but kookaburras may have significant local impacts on small native passerines and particularly threatened geckos.

Breeding

Kookaburras are monogamous and mate for life. Breeding is cooperative with non-breeding family members helping in incubation, brooding, and feeding of young. In Australia this helping phase may last for up to four years. Kookaburras use nest holes which are often reused over many years. A clutch of 2-3 white eggs is laid between November and May. Larger clutch sizes in Australia are attributed to laying by female helpers. No information is yet available on breeding behaviour or success in New Zealand.

Behaviour and ecology

Kookaburras live in family groups and keep in visual and audible contact during the day, roosting together at night in a tall tree. They are strongly territorial. Kookaburras are “perch-and-pounce” predators. They sit on a prominent perch when foraging, often for long periods, until prey appears below when the bird pounces on it. It returns to its perch, where it often stuns the prey repeatedly until it is immobilised, when it is swallowed whole. Kookaburras are long lived, with individuals surviving for at least 12 years in the wild.

Food

In Australia snakes and reptiles form about one third of a kookaburra’s diet, and the absence of snakes in New Zealand may well be a limiting factor in the expansion of this species. Its diet includes earthworms, snails, insects, freshwater crayfish, frogs, lizards, rats, mice, and small birds.

Weblinks

www.teara.govt.nz/en/introduced-land-birds/5

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laughing_kookaburra

References

Fry, C.H.; Fry, K.; Harris, A. 1999. Kingfishers, bee-eaters and rollers. Christopher Helm, London.

Heather, B.D.; Robertson, H.A. 1996. The field guide to the birds of New Zealand. Viking, Auckland.

Luczon, A.U.; Isa, A.H.M.; Quilang, J.P.; Ong, P.S.; Fontanilla, I.K.C. 2010. DNA barcoding of the white-collared kingfisher Todiramphus chloris (Boddaert 1783) using mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 gene. Philippine Science Letters 3: 74-77

MacDonald, J.D. 1992. Birds of Australia. Reed, Chatswood, Australia.

Oliver, W.R.B. 1955. New Zealand birds. A. H. & A. W. Reed, Wellington.

Robertson, C.J.R.; Hyvönen, P.; Fraser, M.J.; Pickard, C.R. 2007. Atlas of bird distribution in New Zealand 1994-2004. Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Wellington.

Recommended citation

Michaux, B. 2013. Laughing kookaburra. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Laughing kookaburra

Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun

Laughing kookaburra

Social structure
co-operative breeding groups, monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest description
Hole nester, unlined cavity with debris build up over time.
Nest height (mean)
2.00 m
Maximum number of successful broods
Unknown probably 1
Clutch size (min)
2
Clutch size (max)
3
Mean egg dimensions (length)
44.00 mm
Mean egg dimensions (width)
33.00 mm
Egg colour
White
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Interval between eggs in a clutch
Unknown
Incubation behaviour
co-operative breeding groups
Incubation length (min)
24days
Incubation length (max)
26days
Nestling type
altricial
Nestling period (min)
33 days
Nestling period (max)
39days
Age at fledging (min)
33days
Age at fledging (max)
39days
Age at independence (mean)
Fed for several months after fledging
Age at first breeding (typical)
Up to 4 years
Maximum longevity
12 years
Maximum dispersal
Sedentary