Bird of the Month August: Laughing Kookaburra
Ahhhh.......the Kookaburra. That cheeky little bugger who steals sausages from the barbie and laughs at all our jokes. Where would we be without them?
Laughing Kookaburra's are native to Australia and iconic symbols of the country, much like kangaroos or koalas. In fact, when Sydney hosted the Summer Olympics in 2000, the Kookaburra was selected as one of three mascots that year to represent the games (the others were Millie the Echidna and Syd the Platypus awww).
Kookaburras are large kingfishers, although they are not limited to water and found extensively throughout Eastern Australia. They're also in Tasmania and South West Australia, having been introduced by humans. But despite not being found throughout all of Australia, their lore lives in on in one of Australia's most famous songs for children:
Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Merry merry king of the bush is he.
Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra,
Gay your life must be!
I can attest that this song has traveled across the world and is now sung by some school children in New York. But how wonderful it must be to sing the song and see the bird in your own backyard. And although this song, which won a contest in 1932, describes the laugh that a Kookaburra makes, you really have to hear it to believe it. Some say when Kookaburras laugh at the same time it means rain is coming. And their all encompassing laughs have been recorded for use in all sorts of movies and TV, meant to represent a generic jungle sound for anywhere in the world. It's even in use at Disney World on some of the jungle rides.
Since moving to Australia I have been outsmarted by a Kookaburra approximately twice thus far. Both involved sandwiches and one was quite dramatic, with the Kookaburra literally taking the sandwich out of my hand as I lifted it to my mouth (it was peanut butter and jelly in case you were wondering).
They're notorious for stealing sausages off the barbecue and I've seen a few since being here with stolen meat. They're almost exclusively carnivores, which is unusual for a bird that's not a bird of prey. In the shot below, I I thought something was wrong with the Kookaburra because it wasn't moving. It took me a minute or so to realize it was playing tug of war with a worm. Eventually, the Kookaburra won.
When they're not stealing sandwiches, pulling worms out of the ground or laughing, they live quite progressive lives, in that both the male and female share equal responsibility for the nest and offspring. They also mate for life and stay in loose family groups in the territory they control. Children help their parents and since they are in territorial groups, they can also erupt in simultaneous laughter to ward off other Kookaburras who might be infringing.
We love Kookaburras at Sydney Bird Club and since they're such an iconic and important part of Australia, we've decided there is no better bird for the month of August. Let's all raise a glass (and have a good laugh) for this quintessential Australian bird.