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Kookaburra - Wildlife Australia

Updated on December 11, 2014

Laughing Kookaburra

He who laughs last, laughs longest and in the case of the Kookaburra it's true.

A Kookaburra also laughs the loudest - but without the kookaburra our days would surely be tinged with drabness and how would we know that the morning had broken?

In the Dreamtime, when Googoorgaga the kookaburra laughed, it was a signal to the Sky Spirits to light the great fire of the sun in the morning, and the signal to put it out again at night.

A kookaburra can live for 20 years

Why does a Kookaburra laugh?

The unmistakeable call of the kookaburra

Kookaburras have an unmistakable boisterous call, usually sung in chorus, that sounds uncannily like loud, human laughter, a sort of good-natured, yet bordering on the hysterical, laugh.

They laugh to mark the boundaries of their territory, then wait to hear the replies of neighbouring groups.

The Kookaburra also laughs to greet its mate after periods of absences. You can hear him any time, but most commonly just as dawn breaks, and at the moment when dusk drains the the colour from the sky.

The call of the kookaburra is loud, rough and raucous. Believe me, some mornings at 5.00 am I wish they would find another place to live!

In the evenings it's a pleasing noise, everyone is packing off to go home for the night and the birds are settling down until sunrise gets them up and at it again.

One Kookaburra starts and they all join in

One bird will start with a low chuckle, then others will join in. One bird will throw back his head and laugh in a frenzied peal and then the whole mob joins in.

Visitors, on first hearing the wild chorus of crazed laughter, are often startled and anxious. I'm used to hearing the kookaburras but sometimes I don't notice one is near and the mad laughter makes me jump, it's so very loud.

The Bushman's Clock

Kookaburras wake you in the morning

As kookaburras wake everyone within earshot at dawn, they are sometimes called the bushman's clock but you hear them in the suburbs too.

In the mornings, just as the sun starts to show, their noisy greetings wake me. Many a time I've been awakened by this 'bushman's clock' before my mechanical alarm kicks in. At times this can be a blessing. At times.

Kookaburras don't just live in scrub or in the Bush. They are found in city parks, along the banks of creeks and rivers and in fact anywhere which can provide some shelter and food. When I turn over my inner-urban garden, at least one kooka will stand near me, his head on the side, waiting to see what my trowel will bring up for his breakfast.

The Kookaburra Story from the Dreamtime

How Googoorgaga saved the light for the world

For a long time there was no sun, only a moon and stars. That was before there were people on the earth, only birds and beasts.

One day Dinewan the Emu and Brolga the Crane were on a large plain near the Murrumbidgee. The two of them began quarreling, shouting and hitting each other.

Brolga, in her rage, rushed to the nest of Dinewan and seized from it one of the huge eggs, which she threw with all her force up to the sky and there it broke on a heap of firewood

The firewood burst into flame from the yellow yolk and lit up the world below. Not one creature had ever seen this light before!.

A Good Spirit saw the Fire

A good Spirit who lived in the sky saw how bright and beautiful the earth looked when lit up by this blaze. The Spirit thought it would be a good thing to make a fire every day, and from that time since it has been done.

All night the Spirit, in the company of other Spirits, collect wood and heap it up. When the heap is nearly big enough the morning star is sent out to warn those on earth that the fire will soon be lit.


Who can make the noise at Dawn?

The Spirits, however, found this warning was not sufficient, for many were sleeping when the morning star came along.

So the Spirits thought someone should make some noise at dawn to herald the coming of the sun and waken the sleepers. But for a long time they couldn't decide who should be the one to do it.

At last one evening they heard the laughter of Googoorgaga, the kookaburra, ringing through the air.

"There - that is the noise we want," said the Spirits.

Googoorgaga, the Kookaburra

Googoorgaga, the Kookaburra
Googoorgaga, the Kookaburra

Googoorgaga saved the light for the world

So the Spirits told Googoorgaga that, as the morning star faded and the day dawned, he was every morning to laugh his loudest, so that his laughter might awaken all sleepers before sunrise.

If he wouldn't agree to do this, then no more would they light the sun-fire, but let the earth be dark again for always.

But Googoorgaga saved the light for the world!

He would laugh his loudest at every dawn of every day, and so he has done ever since, making the air ring with his loud cackling, "Googoor gaga, googoor gaga, googoor gaga."

It's been suggested that the Australian style of speech, even our alleged 'accent', is influenced by being exposed to this boisterous bird since birth

Get your own Kookaburra!

Hansa Kookaburra Plush
Hansa Kookaburra Plush

This merry little fellow comes with a "Toys that Teach" tag describing in detail his habitat, lifestyle, how he cares for the young and his eating habits.


Googoorgaga must NOT stop laughing!

Children are never allowed to imitate the laughter of Googoorgaga, lest he should hear them and cease his morning cry.

If children do laugh as he does, an extra tooth grows above their eye-tooth, so that they carry the mark of their mockery in punishment.

If ever a time comes when Googoorgaga stops laughing, then no more dawns will be seen, and all will be dark again.

Kookaburra Lyrics

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,

Merry merry king of the bush is he.

Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra,

Gay your life must be!

The Kookaburra Song - Sung from China to Chicago

In a quick search of youtube, the Kookaburra Song turns up from China to Chicago. This version is by children at the Pickerington Elementary School. I have no idea where in the world Pickerington is but it's obviously not in Australia.

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Have you ever heard a kookaburra laugh?

What do you think of the Call of the Kookaburra

See results

Each and every comment is appreciated. You don't have to be a kookaburra to post yours

© 2008 Susanna Duffy

Leave a laugh in my Guest Book - A Giggle with Googoorgaga?

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    • cdcraftee profile image

      Christine Larsen 4 years ago from South Australia

      Followed Kathy's link on FB and found you at the creative end Susanna. How delightful. I too love the legend - makes me feel so much better after all these years I believed a couple of them were laughing at me as I went 'walkies' beneath their tree each morning.

      I guess adding more 'googoors' (even up to 10? more?) in the middle of the name would make it even more difficult to the uninitiated, but certainly that's exactly how they sound.

      Love your Australiana lenses best of all... maybe prejudiced?

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 4 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Oh great! Now, I will have this song in my head for the rest of the night. lol We used to sing it all the time especially at church camp - fun memories. I sure enjoyed learning more about this bird that I've been singing about for years. Thanks.

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 4 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      Really loved this page! One of my favorite songs sung in rounds.

    • sittonbull profile image

      sittonbull 4 years ago

      I love the Dreamtime legends, but don't believe I'd like the Kookaburra's morning greeting.... every morning :-)

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 4 years ago from California

      Well, now I know what a Kookaburra is :) I loved the myth/legend about the sun. It has a lot of similarities to the Native American one I know, about the Raven saving the sun. Thanks for pointing me over here. Oh, and I listened to the video....I think that would drive me nuts every day :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I used to live with a silver crested cockatoo. lol

      I understand that attack tires in Australia and I know they do wonders with walls.

      Beautiful lens.


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      Glendame 5 years ago

      What an amazing bird the kookaburra is!

    • aaron-jones profile image

      aaron-jones 5 years ago

      they are just too cute!

    • JanieceTobey profile image

      JanieceTobey 6 years ago

      The Kookaburra song is a favorite from my childhood!

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      Helene-Malmsio 6 years ago

      When we lived in WA we used to have a kookaburra that sat on the clothesline and liked to come over for a feed!

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      River_Rose 6 years ago

      This is some great reading...thanks for sharing ! I love the sound this bird makes...but I don't think I would want to hear it at 5

    • profile image

      jimmyworldstar 6 years ago

      They really do sound like they're laughing? At first I thought it was a hyena then a monkey. I never heard about this bird before, interesting myth story too!

    • waldenthreenet profile image

      waldenthreenet 6 years ago

      Like Kookaburra. Who is endangered in Autralia ?

    • tcorbs profile image

      tcorbs 6 years ago

      I'd love to hear a kookaburra laugh! Nice lens.

    • wolfie10 profile image

      wolfie10 6 years ago

      we have them around here as well. the other morning my partner got up and one was laughing at her. nice lens

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image

      JoyfulPamela2 6 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      I remember singing the Kookaburra song! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Fascinating narrative on the beautiful bird! Love the legend around it. :)

    • profile image

      pickled_cabbage 6 years ago

      At Bundena, when the caravan park was open, at night they would start calling at maybe 4 in the morning and it sounded orchestrated, with different sections doing different parts of a whole call!

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Beautiful page, beautifully wrought. At last I have an image for the nursery rhyme my children and I learned many, many years ago.

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 6 years ago from Australia

      I love this bird! I always have to take a photo when I see one ;-) This lens has been blessed and added to my animal alphabet lens.

    • profile image

      Tarra99 6 years ago

      thanks for teaching me about the Kookaburra bird...very intesting!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 6 years ago from United States

      I have always loved the Kookaburra! Such a beautiful bird!

    • annieangel1 profile image

      Ann 6 years ago from Yorkshire, England

      I thoroughly enjoyed this lens - great stuff. Angel blessed and featured on my Wild Bird Lenses lens

    • ArtByLinda profile image

      Linda Hoxie 6 years ago from Idaho

      What amazing photos, I learned a lot about the kookaburra and would love to hear them laugh some day. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. Blessed and featuring this lens on my wildlife angel blessing page.

    • Nowran profile image

      Nowran 7 years ago

      The kookaburra has a great laugh for cheering you up, but the magpie song is the most beautiful I think

    • deyanis profile image

      deyanis 7 years ago from Oz

      I love listening to Kookaburra for 1 minute then I get really annoyed with its laughing noise =) --- Blessed ---

    • profile image

      seegreen 7 years ago

      I love the sound of the Kookaburra, and I do a pretty good imitation!

    • profile image

      SandyPeaks 7 years ago

      Lovely birds - not sure I'd want to be awakened by them, however!

    • mysticmama lm profile image

      Bambi Watson 7 years ago

      I just love learning about Australia ~ wish I was there :)

      ~ Blessed >*

    • jmsp206 profile image

      Julia M S Pearce 7 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      This is a lovely lens about our laughing Kookaburra with a lovely Aboriginal tale attached.

    • profile image

      grannysage 7 years ago

      I remember you complaining about the noise. I can see why. I've never heard them before.

      But they are so cute. I love the plush one. And it's a good thing they laugh so the sun will come up.

    • profile image

      SHorsburgh 7 years ago

      Love this one! The kids we do singing with love the song as well.

    • SidneyMorgan LM profile image

      SidneyMorgan LM 7 years ago

      It is wrong to comment how cute they are? Such adorable birds and yet so loud... Still thank you for the additional facts that I had no idea on. I do wonder though in terms of normal bird lifespan is 20 years really that long? Thanks again for a wonderful lens Susanna.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      @Virginia Allain: Bloody galahs! Another very noisy bird but they travel in a crowd and make a louder noise. Feathered Fiends!

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 8 years ago from Central Florida

      Wonderful photos. It was such a treat to hear a kookaburra when we lived in Australia. Mostly I heard galahs outside my window.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      @LaraineRoses: The song is already on this lens, Laraine, and the main verse. I still hum it about once a week. It's a lovely little song.

    • LaraineRoses profile image

      Laraine Sims 8 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

      Now I know what a Kookaburra looks like and sounds like. What a racket! There is a song we used to sing as kids. Kookaburra sits in an old oak tree .. .. laugh Kookaburra, Laugh Kookaburra, gay your life must be. Know it? 5*s

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      @myraggededge: I've never seen a hedgehog either.

    • profile image

      myraggededge 8 years ago

      Would love to have the chance to hear one in real life! It's funny how everyday things/creatures can be so fascinating... we had a visitor from Brisbane to the UK who had never seen a hedgehog.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 8 years ago

      Nice lens on a great subject. Top marks and lensrolled to the Great Outdoors


    • MediaMogul1 profile image

      MediaMogul1 8 years ago

      Love the explanation of the mythology. Very nice lens. 5 stars.

    • HorseAndPony LM profile image

      HorseAndPony LM 8 years ago

      I've never heard a Kookaburra laugh but would love to.

    • buteoflyer2 profile image

      Kathie Miller 8 years ago from Southern California

      I used to live in Croydon back in the late 70's. I go back every few years to visit friends and family. To hear the kookaburras again brings all the happy memories back. Thanks for a really great lens. 5*

    • StevenCousley profile image

      Steven Cousley 9 years ago from Young, NSW, Australia

      Hey Sus, excellent work. It's been a long time since I've heard the kookaburra song, probably like Portable_eBay, abou 3rd of 4th grade. Not telling how 5*****

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 9 years ago

      Sus, I had already decided that my next big trip will be to Australia and New Zealand. You wonderful animal and bird lenses just keep up my resolve. I have enough frequent fliers to do it First Class (it is an entire day in the air, after all). I hope that we can have coffee in Melbourne when I come and you can give me some pointers about what to see. Or you can make lenses about them.

      This is really informative but also sweet. I love how you put in the kids too. It just completed the whole thing and gives a real feel about what it is really all about, something you can't get in a book!

      Thanks so much 5*****

    • MatCauthon profile image

      MatCauthon 9 years ago

      Oh man. Oh man. I remember this song "Kookaburra sits on an old gum treeeee... merry merry king of the bush is heee...". I was grade four then, being taught how to accompany and sing it with a ukulele. I flunked big time. Great lens. 5*

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 9 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Very nice lens, I love Kookaburras. My uncle used to live on a ridge just south of the Queensland NSW border and they used to have these and other birds including Lorikeets come feed morning and night. There was an awful racket if they weren't ready with the food in time. 5*****

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 9 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      I've heard so much about the kookaburra and the sound it makes. I'm amazed to hear it and it really does sound like it'd laughing. :-o)