The Kookaburra and The Crustacean Claw
The Laughing Kookaburra can be identified immediately by both plumage and call. The cackling laugh is often used in scary jungle movies.
Laughing Kookaburras are found throughout eastern Australia. They feed mostly on insects, worms and crustaceans (like the yabby crayfish above) although small snakes, mammals, frogs and birds may also be eaten. Prey is seized by pouncing from a convenient perch. The meal is eaten whole, but larger prey is killed by bashing it against the ground or tree branch.
The kookaburra photograph (above) was taken at Crows Nest, located 44km north-east of Toowoomba on the Great Dividing Range, Queensland. It is one of the larger members of the kingfisher family with a wingspan 64cm-66cm (25in-26in).
I have always loved keen-eyed, stocky little kookaburras. Suburban kookaburras living in parkland sometimes loiter around barbecue cooking areas. They are not dangerous birds and rather stand-offish but I would not encourage them with human food. That powerful beak is better suited to nature’s diet.
Laughing Kookaburra feathers are generally off-white below, faintly barred with dark brown, and brown on the back and wings. The tail is more rufous, broadly barred with black. There is a conspicuous dark brown eye-stripe through the face, like an old-fashioned burglar mask.
My grandfather was an artist, woodcarver and bespoke furniture maker, and he designed and cast this laughing kookaburra (above) in a plaster mould. After hand-painting the kookaburra, he framed it in the minimalist style of 1960s. Both he and my grandmother (a needleworker extraordinaire) created Australian designs when many things were influenced by British and European artisans.
The kookaburra’s scientific name is Dacelo novaeguineae but the name ‘kookaburra’ is generally believed to be derived from the original term ‘grab a stick’ or ‘gougou garrdga’ in Kamilaroi/Euhlayi language.
Group kookaburra calls are best heard in early morning and at dusk, and are crazy loud if you are standing under their tree.
A group of kookaburras is called ‘a riot of kookaburras’ because of the raucous noise.
Studies have shown that kookaburras pair for life. The nest is usually a bare chamber in a naturally occurring tree hollow. The breeding season is August to January and every bird in the family group shares parenting duties. The ideal set-up really.
My words, with kookaburra information courtesy of Sea World and Australian Museum.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
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