Kookaburras and Other Kingfishers

Kookaburras are the largest kingfishers in Australia.

Many kingfishers are, exactly as the name suggests, kings when it comes to fishing.

They are known to live near creeks or streams in forests, and dive into the water to catch fish. But as with all rules there are exceptions, and Australian kookaburra, the world’s largest kingfisher, does not fish often at all, and it doesn’t live near water streams but in open forest and woodland.

Blue-Winged Kookaburras, One with Gecko, in Gulf Savannah
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There are two species of them in Australia. Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) is a large bird, 45cm long, with a white head and belly, a large strong beak and a brown back which camouflages it on the forest ground, particularly from above because its predators are large birds of prey. Their laughing “koo-koo-ka-ka-kook” call makes them unique even amongst the other birds in  Australia.
Kookaburra at the Sedgwick County Zoo
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The other species is the Blue Winged Kookaburra (Dacelo leachii), which is smaller, has a blue tail and wings, and a larger beak. Their ranges also vary: The laughing species is found in the eastern Australia including Tasmania while the blue-winged species is found in northern Australia. In Queensland their ranges overlap and both species are present. Both species have been introduced to Western Australia where they are considered pests.

Blue Winged Kookaburra (Decelo Leachii), Kakadu National Park, Australia
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Kookaburras live in forests and woodlands and the reason for their large beak is that they eat large invertebrates such as insects, worms, crustaceans and snails, and also small vertebrates such as frogs, reptiles, small birds and mammals.

Kookaburra at the Sedwick County Zoo
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They are monogamous birds - they live in family groups and they are very territorial. The whole family group helps to defend the territory with their calls. The size of the territory, and the group, depends on availability of resources such as food – the more resources there are the smaller the territory and the smaller the group. Large territories are not favoured because they become hard to defend and maintain.

Laughing Kookaburra Dives Through the Air to Hunt Prey
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Family Groups
Family groups are also needed for raising young. They breed once a year. Female lays 1-5 eggs in a tree hollow between September and January, and the whole group – the female, male, and siblings from previous years, help to raise the young. The older siblings usually hang around and help for a few years, then take off to find their own territories once they are old enough to breed and defend a territory. Females usually take off earlier than males because it’s easier for females to find breeding vacancies.

Laughing Kookaburra, Dacelo Novaeguineae, Perched in a Tree
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Other Australian Kingfisher Birds
Other Australian kingfishers include Azure (Alcedo azurea), Little (Alcedo pusilla), Red-backed (Todiramphus pyrrhopygia), Forest (Todiramphus macleayii), Collared (Todiramphus chloris), Sacred (Todiramphus sanctus), Yellow-billed (Syma torotoro) and Buff-breasted Kingfisher (Tanysiptera sylvia). They are all smaller than kookaburras, and most often more colourful. Many species live on fish which they catch diving into forest streams.

Common Kingfisher
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Where to See Kingfisher Birds
Kookaburras are quite easily seen everywhere, even in urban areas. Smaller kingfishers are shyer, and perfect places to see them are around forest streams. Some good places to see kingfishers are Royal National Park south of Sydney in New South Wales, Kakadu National Park in Northern Territory and Daintree National Park in far north Queensland, and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in Northern Territory.


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