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Updated on April 26, 2011

The Kookaburra is a woodland kingfisher that lives in Australia and New Guinea. It's been called the "laughing jackass" because its usual note is a loud braying or barking sound.

Kookaburras are about 17 inches (43 centimeters) long. They have large heads, long bills, its plumage a mixture of white, buff, brown and black. They live in the bush (forests). Kookaburras eat caterpillars, fish, frogs, insects, small mammals, snakes, worms and even small birds. They do not build nests but live in tree holes, wher they lay two or three white shelled eggs. The male birds sometimes fiercely defend their homes.



The breeding season is September to December. The nest is built in a hollow tree or in a hole in a bank, sometimes in a chamber tunneled out of a termites' nest. The eggs are white, somewhat rounded, two to four white eggs are laid. The nestlings are fed on young of other birds, small reptiles, grubs, and large insects.

A detailed account has been given of a nesting pair in a zoo. The nest was in the hollow base of a tree and the birds tunneled out the earth below so that the nest was finally 3 inches below ground level. One egg was laid then a second the next day and a third 3 days later. Male and female shared the incubating for 25 days. Several times the hen rapped on the tree with her bill. The male responded to this by going in and relieving her at the nest. This could be compared with the kiwi's behavior. Kookaburras are vigorous in defending their nest and young.


The kookaburra will eat anything animal including large insects, crabs, fish, reptiles and birds. It will not only rob nests of wild birds but has the reputation of taking chicks and ducklings from farms. It is also has a reputation as a snake-killer, tackling snakes up to 2 feet long, seizing them behind the head, battering them senseless or killing them by dropping them from a height. Several kookaburras may combine to kill a large snake.


Kookaburras are found throughout eastern Australia from Cape York Peninsula south to Victoria and South Australia. They have been introduced to Western Australia and Tasmania. They are most likely to be located in woodland and open forests where the trees are large enough to contain their nests and where there is a reliable supply of food. Their diet includes insects, snakes, lizards, rodents and small birds.

Away from the homesteads and suburbs the kookaburra is threatened by the continued felling of trees and from the advance of human settlement. They are also harassed by introduced starlings taking over the nesting sites in hollow trees.

Both species nest in hollow trees, frequently excavating hollows for the purpose in comparatively sound wood by flying repeatedly at the one spot with stout beak a-tilt.


It is stockily built with the usual heavy head of its family and the bill is large and heavy. The kingfisher family is divided into two subfamilies, the river kingfishers and the forest kingfishers which usually live far from water; the kookaburra is the largest of the forest kingfishers. Its range is eastern and southern Australia from Cape York in the north to Eyre Peninsula and Kangaroo Island. It was introduced into Western Australia in 1898 and is established in the southwestern corner. It was introduced into Tasmania in 1905 and is firmly settled there.

The blue-winged kookaburra is less well known. Its range is the northern parts of the continent, north of a line from Shark's Bay in Western Australia to southeastern Queensland. It is also found in New Guinea. It is the same size as the laughing kookaburra, and has much the same habits, but it is less vociferous and is mainly distinguished by the blue in its wings.

The kookaburra belongs to the kingfisher family, Alcedinidae. It is classified as genus Dacelo, species D. gigas.


  • The New International Illustrated Encyclopaedia, Volume 4, 1954. Page 154.
  • Childcraft Dictionary, 1989 edition.
  • The World Book Encyclopaedia, J-K, Volume 11, 1978.
  • The Angus & Robertson Concise Australian Encyclopaedia, Second Edition, 1986.
  • The International Wildlife Encyclopedia, B.P.C. Publishing, 1968. Volume 9, Page 1258.


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    • profile image

      Rhonda 7 years ago

      Well today I got a shock the 1st time in my life I have seen a black kookuburra I have photos but I dont no how to put them on computer black of all things same size as our kookasbut black with blue down its wings

    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      What a fascinating little bird! Thanks for sharing this, DS.

    • J  Rosewater profile image

      J Rosewater 8 years ago from Australia

      Great - love your references, too. Onya!

    • Julie-Ann Amos profile image

      Julie-Ann Amos 8 years ago from Gloucestershire, UK

      Great series of wildlife hubs thanks!

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      KCC Big Country 8 years ago from Central Texas

      That's the best way, darkside!

    • darkside profile image

      Glen 8 years ago from Australia

      I rescued one from being splatted on the road last year. He had an injury. When I write the Capstone hub for all these Australian Animals hubs I've done I'll be speaking a lot from personal experience.

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      KCC Big Country 8 years ago from Central Texas

      Now I know what a kookaburra looks like! I mentioned the Kookaburra song in the HubChallenge links forum.