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Dacelo novaeguineae waterworks.jpg
Laughing Kookaburra in Tasmania, Australia
recorded in south west Australia
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Coraciiformes
Family: Alcedinidae
Subfamily: Halcyoninae
Leach, 1815
Type species
Dacelo novaeguineae
Hermann, 1783

Spangled kookaburra

Shovel-billed kookaburra (Clytoceyx rex)

Rufous-bellied kookaburra

Laughing kookaburra

Blue-winged kookaburra

Cladogram based on the molecular analysis by Andersen and colleagues published in 2017. [1]

Kookaburras are terrestrial tree kingfishers of the genus Dacelo native to Australia and New Guinea, which grow to between 28–42 cm (11–17 in) in length. The name is a loanword from Wiradjuri guuguubarra, onomatopoeic of its call. The loud distinctive call of the laughing kookaburra is widely used as a stock sound effect in situations that involve an Australian bush setting or tropical jungle, especially in older movies.

Terrestrial animal animals living on land

Terrestrial animals are animals that live predominantly or entirely on land, as compared with aquatic animals, which live predominantly or entirely in the water, or amphibians, which rely on a combination of aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Terrestrial invertebrates include ants, flies, crickets, grasshoppers and spiders.

Tree kingfisher subfamily of birds

The tree kingfishers or wood kingfishers, subfamily Halcyoninae, are the most numerous of the three subfamilies of birds in the kingfisher family, with around 70 species divided into 12 genera, including several species of kookaburras. The subfamily appears to have arisen in Indochina and Maritime Southeast Asia and then spread to many areas around the world. Tree kingfishers are widespread through Asia and Australasia, but also appear in Africa and the islands of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, using a range of habitats from tropical rainforest to open woodlands.

Australia Country in Oceania

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. The population of 25 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Australia's capital is Canberra, and its largest city is Sydney. The country's other major metropolitan areas are Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.


They are found in habitats ranging from humid forest to arid savanna, as well as in suburban areas with tall trees or near running water. Even though they belong to the larger group known as "kingfishers", kookaburras are not closely associated with water. [2]

Kingfisher family of birds

Kingfishers or Alcedinidae are a family of small to medium-sized, brightly colored birds in the order Coraciiformes. They have a cosmopolitan distribution, with most species found in the tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Oceania. The family contains 114 species and is divided into three subfamilies and 19 genera. All kingfishers have large heads, long, sharp, pointed bills, short legs, and stubby tails. Most species have bright plumage with only small differences between the sexes. Most species are tropical in distribution, and a slight majority are found only in forests. They consume a wide range of prey usually caught by swooping down from a perch. While kingfishers are usually thought to live near rivers and eat fish, many species live away from water and eat small invertebrates. Like other members of their order, they nest in cavities, usually tunnels dug into the natural or artificial banks in the ground. Some kingfishers nest in arboreal termite nests. A few species, principally insular forms, are threatened with extinction. In Britain, the word "kingfisher" normally refers to the common kingfisher.


The genus Dacelo was introduced by the English zoologist William Elford Leach in 1815. [3] The type species is the laughing kookaburra. [4] The name Dacelo is an anagram of Alcedo, the Latin word for a kingfisher. [5] A molecular study published in 2017 found that the genus Dacelo, as currently defined, is paraphyletic. The shovel-billed kookaburra in the monotypic genus Clytoceyx sits within Dacelo. [1]

William Elford Leach, MD, FRS was an English zoologist and marine biologist.

Type species term used in zoological nomenclature (also non-officially in botanical nomenclature)

In zoological nomenclature, a type species is the species name with which the name of a genus or subgenus is considered to be permanently taxonomically associated, i.e., the species that contains the biological type specimen(s). A similar concept is used for suprageneric groups called a type genus.

Laughing kookaburra species of carnivorous bird

The laughing kookaburra is a bird in the kingfisher subfamily Halcyoninae. It is a large robust kingfisher with a whitish head and a dark eye-stripe. The upperparts are mostly dark brown but there is a mottled light-blue patch on the wing coverts. The underparts are white and the tail is barred with rufous and black. The plumage of the male and female birds is similar. The territorial call is a distinctive laugh that is often delivered by several birds at the same time, and is widely used as a stock sound effect in situations that involve a jungle setting.

Classification and species

Four species of kookaburra can be found in Australia, New Guinea, and the Aru Islands.

Aru Islands Regency Regency in Maluku, Indonesia

The Aru Islands Regency are a group of about ninety-five low-lying islands in the Maluku province of eastern Indonesia. They also form a regency of Maluku, with a land area of 8,152.42 square kilometres. At the 2011 Census the Regency had a population of 84,138; the latest official estimate was 93,722.

A male blue-winged kookaburra Blue-winged kookaburra arp.jpg
A male blue-winged kookaburra
Spangled kookaburra Spangled Kookaburra.jpg
Spangled kookaburra

Kookaburras are sexually dimorphic. This is noticeable in the blue-winged and the rufous-bellied, where males have blue tails and females have reddish-brown tails.

Sexual dimorphism condition where the two sexes of the same species exhibit different characteristics beyond the differences in their sexual organs

Sexual dimorphism is the condition where the two sexes of the same species exhibit different characteristics beyond the differences in their sexual organs. The condition occurs in many animals and some plants. Differences may include secondary sex characteristics, size, weight, color, markings, and may also include behavioral and cognitive differences. These differences may be subtle or exaggerated, and may be subjected to sexual selection. The opposite of dimorphism is monomorphism.

Rufous-bellied kookaburra species of bird

The rufous-bellied kookaburra, originally known as Gaudichaud’s kookaburra after the French botanist Charles Gaudichaud-Beaupré, is a species of kookaburra which is widely distributed through the forests of lowland New Guinea. It has also been recorded on Saibai Island, Queensland, Australia.

Saibai Island locality in Queensland, Australia

Saibai Island is an island of the Torres Strait Islands archipelago, located in the Torres Strait of Queensland, Australia. The island is situated north of the Australian mainland and south of the island of New Guinea.

Spangled kookaburra species of bird

The spangled kookaburra also called Aru giant kingfisher, is a little-known species of kookaburra found in the Aru Islands, Trans Fly savanna and grasslands of southern New Guinea. Practically nothing is known of its family life or breeding biology.

Unusually for close relatives, the laughing and blue-winged species are direct competitors in the area where their ranges now overlap. [6] This suggests that these two species evolved in isolation, possibly during a period when Australia and New Guinea were more distant — see Australia (continent).


Kookaburras are almost exclusively carnivorous, eating mice, snakes, insects, small reptiles, and the young of other birds; unlike many other kingfishers, they rarely eat fish, although they have been known to take goldfish from garden ponds. In zoos they are usually fed food for birds of prey.

The most social birds will accept handouts and will take meat from barbecues. It is generally not advised to feed kookaburras ground beef or pet food, as these do not include enough calcium and roughage. [7]

They are territorial, except for the rufous-bellied, which often live with their young from the previous season. [8] They often sing as a chorus to mark their territory.

Three newly hatched kookaburra chicks Newly hatched chicks of Australian Laughing Kookaburra.jpg
Three newly hatched kookaburra chicks


All kookaburra species are listed as Least Concern. Australian law protects native birds, including kookaburras.

In culture

The distinctive sound of the laughing kookaburra's call, which sounds like echoing human laughter, is widely used in filmmaking and television productions, as well as certain Disney theme park attractions, regardless of African, Asian and South American jungle settings. Kookaburras have also appeared in several video games, including ( Lineage II , Battletoads , and World of Warcraft ) and at least in one short story (Barry Wood's Nowhere to Go).

Olly the Kookaburra was one of the three mascots chosen for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. The other mascots were Millie the Echidna and Syd the Platypus.

In William Arden's 1969 book, The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow , (one of 'The Three Investigators' series for young readers), the laughing kookaburra is integral to the plot.

The children's television series Splatalot! includes an Australian character called "Kookaburra" (or "Kook"), whose costume includes decorative wings that recall the bird's plumage, and who is noted for his distinctive high-pitched laugh.

The call of a kookaburra nicknamed "Jacko" was for many years used as the morning opening theme by ABC radio stations, and for Radio Australia's overseas broadcasts. [9] This was the basis for a book for children:



Postage stamps

B.C.O.F. kookaburra stamp first issued in 1946. Australia-Stamp-1946 BCOF Wartime Overprint.jpg
B.C.O.F. kookaburra stamp first issued in 1946.


An Australian coin known as the Silver Kookaburra minted annually since 1990. [14]

Usage across sport


The Australian 12-metre yacht Kookaburra III lost the America's Cup in 1987. [15]


The Australian Men's Hockey team is named after the kookaburra. As of 2014, they are world champions in field hockey. [16]

Sports equipment company

Australian sports equipment company Kookaburra Sport is named after the bird.

Related Research Articles

Belted kingfisher species of bird

The belted kingfisher is a large, conspicuous water kingfisher, the only member of that group commonly found in the northern United States and Canada. It is depicted on the 1986 series Canadian $5 note. All kingfishers were formerly placed in one family, Alcedinidae, but recent research suggests that this should be divided into three subfamilies.

The Sibley-Monroe checklist was a landmark document in the study of birds. It drew on extensive DNA-DNA hybridisation studies to reassess the relationships between modern birds.

Blue-winged kookaburra species of bird

The blue-winged kookaburra is a large species of kingfisher native to northern Australia and southern New Guinea.

Green kingfisher species of bird

The green kingfisher is a resident breeding bird which occurs from southern Texas in the United States south through Central and South America to central Argentina.

American pygmy kingfisher species of bird

The American pygmy kingfisher is a resident breeding kingfisher which occurs in the American tropics from southern Mexico south through Central America to western Ecuador, and then around the northern Andes cordillera in the east to central Bolivia and central Brazil. The species occupies the entire Amazon basin and the Tocantins River drainage adjacent in Pará state Brazil. It also occurs on Trinidad.

Birds of Boigu, Saibai and Dauan Islands (Torres Strait)

The Birds of Boigu, Saibai and Dauan Islands, are of particular interest to Australian birders because the islands are home to, and visited by, birds which are essentially New Guinea species not found, or only occasionally seen as vagrants, elsewhere on Australian territory. The islands lie only a few kilometres from the mainland of New Guinea, though they are politically part of the state of Queensland, Australia.

Buff-breasted paradise kingfisher species of bird

The buff-breasted paradise kingfisher is a bird in the tree kingfisher subfamily, Halcyoninae. It is native to Australia and New Guinea. It migrates in November from New Guinea to its breeding grounds in the rainforest of North Queensland, Australia. Like all paradise kingfishers, this bird has colourful plumage with a red bill, buff breast and distinctive long tail streamers.

Shovel-billed kookaburra species of bird

The shovel-billed kookaburra, also known as the shovel-billed kingfisher, is a large, approximately 33 cm (13 in) long, dark brown tree kingfisher with a heavy, short and broad bill that is unique among the kingfishers. It has a dark head with rufous stripe behind eye, a white throat, rufous neck collar and underparts, bright blue rump, brown iris, brownish-black bill with paler mandible and pale feet. Both sexes are similar in appearance, but are easily recognized from the color of the tail. The male has a dark bluish tail while female's is rufous. The juvenile has a female-like plumage with scale-patterned feathers.

Banded kingfisher species of bird

The banded kingfisher is a tree kingfisher found in lowland tropical forests of southeast Asia. It is the only member of the genus Lacedo. Male and female adults are very different in plumage. The male has a bright blue crown with black and blue banding on the back. The female has rufous and black banding on the head and upperparts.

Green-and-rufous kingfisher species of bird

The green-and-rufous kingfisher is a resident breeding bird in the lowlands of the American tropics from southeastern Nicaragua south to southern Brazil.

Lilac kingfisher species of bird

The lilac kingfisher or Celebes flat-billed kingfisher is a resident breeding bird in the lowlands of the Indonesia island of Sulawesi and the neighbouring Sangihe and Talaud Islands. It is the only member of the genus Cittura.

Moustached kingfisher species of bird

The moustached kingfisher, also called Bougainville moustached kingfisher, is a species of bird in the family Alcedinidae. It is endemic to Bougainville Island in Papua New Guinea. An estimated 250–1,000 mature individuals are left.

Hook-billed kingfisher species of bird

The hook-billed kingfisher is a species of kingfisher in the subfamily Halcyoninae that is resident in the lowland forested areas of New Guinea and some of the nearby islands. It is the only member of the genus Melidora.

Brown-headed paradise kingfisher species of bird

The brown-headed paradise kingfisher, also known as the russet paradise kingfisher, is a species of bird in the family Alcedinidae. It is endemic to the lowland forest in south east Papua New Guinea. Its natural habitats are temperate forests and subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests. Like all paradise kingfishers this bird has colourful plumage with a red bill and distinctive long tail streamers.


  1. 1 2 Andersen, M.J.; McCullough, J.M.; Mauck III, W.M.; Smith, B.T.; Moyle, R.G. (2017). "A phylogeny of kingfishers reveals an Indomalayan origin and elevated rates of diversification on oceanic islands". Journal of Biogeography. 45 (2): 1–13. doi:10.1111/jbi.13139.
  2. Simpson, Ken (1989). Field guide to the birds of Australia: a book of identification. Christopher Helm. p. 317.
  3. Leach, William Elford (1815). The Zoological Miscellany; being descriptions of new, or interesting Animals. Volume 2. London: B. McMillan for E. Nodder & Son. p. 125.
  4. Peters, James Lee, ed. (1945). Check-list of Birds of the World. Volume 5. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 189.
  5. Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 130. ISBN   978-1-4081-2501-4.
  6. "Kookaburra, Dacelo sp. Factsheet (Bibliography)". San Diego Zoo. Retrieved 23 Jan 2017.
  7. Giles, Jennie (1994). "Caring for Wild Birds in Captivity Series (Adelaide and Environs): Caring for Kookaburras" (PDF). Bird Care & Conservation Society South Australia Inc. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  8. Legge, Sarah (2004). Kookaburra: King of the Bush. Collingwood, Victoria: CSIRO Publishing. ISBN   978-0-643-09063-7. OCLC   223994691.
  9. Jerry Berg. "Jacko, the Broadcasting Kookaburra" . Retrieved 3 June 2017.
  10. Of Tarzan and Kookaburras. The Sound and the Foley (2013-08-27). Retrieved on 2019-01-04.
  11. That Jungle Sound. The Sound and the Foley (2013-05-30). Retrieved on 2019-01-04.
  12. Arthur, Nicole. (2003-01-31) Day of the Dolphin. The Washington Post. Retrieved on 2019-01-04.
  13. Bird Stamps of Australia. Birdtheme.org. Retrieved on 2019-01-04.
  14. "Australian Kookaburra". Silver Bullion World. Retrieved 4 November 2013.
  15. "Maritime Topics On Stamps, America Cup, Sailing". Archived from the original on 2008-06-08. Retrieved 2008-06-14.
  16. Hockey Australia: Kookaburras

Further reading