Laughing Kookaburra - Reptile Encounters

Laughing Kookaburra

Scientific name:

Dacelo novaeguineae

Other names:

Laughing kingfisher, Laughing jackass, Great brown kingfisher


Least Concern

The Laughing Kookaburra is the world’s largest species of Kingfisher. A stout, stocky bird getting to 42cm in length, with a large head, large brown eyes and a very large bill. Males and females are very similar, but females tend to be slightly larger with less blue on the rump than the males. They have a white or cream-coloured body and head with a dark brown stripe across 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 a rusty reddish-orange colour with dark brown bars and white tips on the feathers.
The subspecies D. n. minor looks similar but is smaller.

Mice and similar-sized small mammals, large insects, fish, yabbies, lizards, small birds and nestlings, and venomous snakes. Smaller prey is usually taken, but larger prey isn’t uncommon, with full-grown snakes like Eastern Browns, larger lizards such as Blue-tongues and young Shinglebacks and even Sugar Gliders recorded as being successfully subdued.

Open sclerophyll forests and woodlands, especially with a more open and grassy understory. Also found in wetlands, and in partially cleared areas where power lines or fences may be used as vantage points. Commonly found in the suburbs and backyards.

Presence of tree hollows is necessary for breeding.

The laughing kookaburra is native to eastern Australia and has a range that extends from Cape York in the north to Cape Otway in the south, with Cape York individuals being the subspecies D. n. minor. It is found on both the eastern and the western sides of the Great Dividing Range. In the south the range extends west from Victoria to the Yorke Peninsula and the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.

It has also been introduced to WA, Tasmania, Flinders Island and Kangaroo Island thanks to its reputation for killing snakes – although in many of these areas it has decimated small bird species as well. It has also been introduced to Kawau Island off the coast of New Zealand, although the population is very small (~500 birds).

This species lives in and maintains a territory throughout the year, and mates for life. A breeding pair will also share their territory with up to 5 full-grown non-breeding offspring from previous years that help both raise young and defend the territory. Nests are usually in tree hollows, but they may also dig a burrow into a termite nest to breed in. Territories are defended by ‘laughing’; this call is famous worldwide and often used in popular culture. If there is an intruder in the territory, they are quickly chased off, and physical altercations can break out if an individual does not move away quickly.
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