Dacelo novaeguineaelaughing kookaburra

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Geographic Range

Kookaburra are found in eastern and southern Australia and have recently been introduced into Tasmania. They are not migratory.

(Phoenix Zoo 2001; Parry, 1970)

Habitat

Kookaburras live in medium to dense woodland areas that are typically wet and cold. They live in leafy trees sometimes near inland water.

(Parry, 1970; Ponnamperuma 1997)

Physical Description

The Kookaburra is 45cm long and weighs approximately one pound (.5 kg). It has a large square head with brown cheek patches on its face. It is brown with a grayish white underside and has dark bands on its tail. It is a stocky bird with a long, dagger-like beak. Males, females, as well as their offspring (over 3 months of age) are identical in physical appearance as well as vocal behavior.

(Phoenix Zoo, 2001, Ponnamperuma, 1997; Koala Web, 2000; Parry, 1970)

Reproduction

The Kookaburra's nest is usually 30 feet high in the air and is typically found in a hole in the Mountain Gum Tree. The female lays between two and four pure white eggs, usually one day apart. The incubation period lasts 24-26 days. When hatched, the chicks are naked and blind, but are generally the same size as the adult. However, both their beaks and tails are shorter than those those of the adults. Their beaks are black when born, but as the first three months elapse they turn a bone color. Additionally, their plumage tends to be darker when the young are first hatched because it is new, but it lightens in the first six months. Sexual maturity and adulthood are reached at one year of age. The adult breeding pair usually has one or more auxiliaries (helpers) who are typically the young who were born the previous year.

(Parry, 1970)

Behavior

Kookaburras are territorial and occupy the same well-defined territory all year long. They tend to congregate in groups of three or more, the breeding pair and helper(s). These helpers, who are mostly male, assist with the nesting duties and help protect the breeding pair's territory. Kookaburras are usually peaceful birds, but there are some symbolic aggressive acts present in the territory such as sparring, which results in forming a dominance hierarchy within the family. Sparring is where two birds grasp bills and twist and turn to show an act of strength and dominance. It is ended when the loser has either been thrown off the perch or has given up and flown away. The breeding pair is always the most dominant with the oldest auxiliary following behind. Between the new young, dominance is established in early sparring matches.

(Parry, 1970)

VOCAL BEHAVIOR: The Kookaburra has a unique song that is commonly related to a full boisterous human laugh. The song's cycle starts with a low chuckle 'ooo' and then goes into a high 'ha ha ha' and then back into a low chuckle. It is a communal (shared with neighbors) laugh and can usually be heard in the early morning and early evening. It is a yearlong song, especially present during the few months before the breeding season. Dacelo gigas also has six distinctive calls: chuckle, chuck, squawk, soft squawk, cackle, and kooaa. These are used in territorial, tense, or excited behaviors and are used to communicate information only to family members, not to neighbors.

(Parry, 1970; Alcock, 1988)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The Kookaburra can be described as insectivorous as well as carnivorous. It feeds primarily on snakes, large lizards, worms, snails, insects, fresh water crayfish, frogs, small birds and rodents. It has a prominent bony ridge in the back of its skull, like the Kingfisher, and strong muscles in the neck that aid in killing prey. It accomplishes this task by bashing its victims against its perch.

(Parry, 1970)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Dacelo novaeguineae aids in reducing insect outbreaks and was very useful to colonists because it feeds on snakes. It was also very valuable in trade because of its skin. Fishermen may have kept the Kookaburra as a pet.

(Parry, 1970)

Conservation Status

Other Comments

A picture can be found at Ponnamperuma 1997.

Nicknames of the Kookaburra include Great Brown Kingfisher and Laughing Jackass. Another scientific name that has been used is Dacelo gigas.

Contributors

Laura Sholtis (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

introduced

referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Alcock, John. 1988. The Kookaburra's Song. The University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

Parry, Veronica. 1970. Kookaburras. Lansdowne Press, Melbourne.

Koala Web, 2000. "The Kookaburra" (On-line). Accessed February 27, 2001 at http://www.hotkey.net.au/~perrelink//Kookaburra.htm.

Phoenix Zoo, 2001. "Kookaburra" (On-line). Accessed February 27, 2001 at http://www.phoenixzoo.org/zoo/animals/facts/kookaburra.asp.

Ponnamperuma, S. 1997. "About: Kookaburra - a large Australian Kingfisher" (On-line). Accessed February 27, 2001 at http://www.ozramp.net.au/~senani/kookab.htm.