The laughing kookaburra is so named because of its raucous call that sounds like a series of laughs, chuckles, and gurgles. This vocalization can be heard up to two miles away. You may have heard it many times without even realizing it—it has been used in many jungle movies and it is often assumed that the source is monkeys. Laughing kookaburras do not migrate and use these calls to establish and defend their territory.
Laughing kookaburras are thought to pair for life. Nanny-like helpers, most likely offspring from previous years, assist with parenting duties. They often nest in eucalyptus tree hollows. The female lays two or three white eggs one day apart. After an incubation of about 25 days, the chicks hatch. They begin to practice their laugh at six weeks of age. By eight weeks, they can catch their own prey. Kookaburra songs are a learned behavior. The adult male will sing a portion of the song, and the chicks repeat it back. It takes several weeks to perfect the calls.
While kookaburras do indeed “sit in the old gum (eucalyptus) tree,” as Marion Sinclair’s song lyrics describe, they are not “counting all the monkeys they can see” because there are no monkeys in Australia. Instead, they are most likely “counting” small birds, frogs, and insects for their next meal. These birds have excellent vision and watch for prey from a high perch before diving after their quarry. Like other members of the kingfisher family, they have large dagger-like beaks that they use to grasp prey and slam it against a branch or the ground to immobilize it before swallowing it headfirst.
Woodlands, grasslands, and urban forests of Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand.
Carnivores, they eat invertebrates (earthworms, insects and larvae, snails, freshwater crayfish), frogs, large lizards, small mammals, small birds, and snakes.
Laughing kookaburras are 16-18 inches long and weigh about one pound. The female is slightly larger than the male.