Kookaburra
Kookaburra

Perhaps the best known of all Australian Birds, the Kookaburra is a carnivorous bird in the kingfisher family. Native to eastern Australia, it has also been introduced to parts of New Zealand, Tasmania and Western Australia. Male and female adults are similar in plumage, which is predominantly brown and white.

The is a stocky bird of about 45 cm (18 in) in length, with a large head, a prominent brown eye, and a very large bill. The sexes are very similar, although the female averages larger and has less blue to the rump than the male. They have a white or cream-coloured body and head with a dark brown stripe through each eye and more faintly over the top of the head. The wings and back are brown with sky blue spots on the shoulders. The tail is rusty reddish-orange with dark brown bars and white tips on the feathers. The heavy bill is black on top and bone coloured on the bottom.

The name "Laughing Kookaburra" refers to the bird's "laugh", which it uses to establish territory amongst family groups. It can be heard at any time of day, but most frequently shortly after dawn and after sunset to dusk.

One bird starts with a low, hiccuping chuckle, then throws its head back in raucous laughter: often several others join in. If a rival tribe is within earshot and replies, the whole family soon gathers to fill the bush with ringing laughter. Hearing kookaburras in full voice is one of the more extraordinary experiences of the Australian bush, something even locals cannot ignore; some visitors, unless forewarned, may find their call startling.

Kookaburras occupy woodland territories (including forests) in loose family groups, and their laughter serves the same purpose as a great many other bird calls—to demarcate territorial borders. Most species of Kookaburra tend to live in family units, with offspring helping the parents hunt and care for the next generation of offspring.

Kookaburras hunt much as other kingfishers do by perching on a convenient branch or wire and waiting patiently for prey to pass by. Common prey include mice and similar-sized small mammals, large insects, lizards, small birds and nestlings, and most famously, snakes. Small prey are preferred, but kookaburras sometimes take large creatures, including venomous snakes much longer than their bodies.

During mating season, the Kookaburra reputedly indulges in behaviour similar to that of a Wattle Bird. The female adopts a begging posture and vocalises like a young bird. They start breeding around October/November. If the first clutch fails, they will continue breeding into the summer months.

They generally lay three eggs at about 2-day intervals. If the food supply is not adequate, the third egg will be smaller and the third chick will also be smaller and at a disadvantage relative to its larger siblings. Chicks have a hook on the upper mandible, which disappears by the time of fledging. If the food supply to the chicks is not adequate, the chicks will quarrel, with the hook being used as a weapon. The smallest chick may even be killed by its larger siblings. If food is plentiful, the parent birds spend more time brooding the chicks and so the chicks are not able to fight.

Kookaburras are a common sight in suburban gardens and urban settings, even in built-up areas, and are so accustomed to humans that they will often eat out of their hands. It is not uncommon for kookaburras to snatch food out of people's hands without warning, by swooping in from a distance. People often feed them pieces of raw meat.