Dry eucalyptus forests, woodlands, and urban parks and gardens

Plain bird, fancy voice

The laughing kookaburra is the largest member of the kingfisher family and was once called the giant kingfisher. Most kingfishers are brightly colored—often blue or green—and many of them specialize in diving into streams and ponds to catch fish. The laughing kookaburra, however, is plainly colored and rarely eats fish! It has a light beige or white head and breast with brown wings and back. The head has a brown stripe like a mask crossing each eye. The beak is heavy and boat-shaped. The kookaburra’s breast has pale gray, wavy lines, and the outsides of the wings are speckled with pale blue dots. The male laughing kookaburra often has blue above the base of the tail. Both sexes have a rusty red tail with black bars and white tips. The female is slightly larger than the male.

The laughing kookaburra is one of four species of kookaburra; the other three are the blue-winged kookaburra, the spangled kookaburra, and the rufous-bellied kookaburra.

Good for a laugh

It may look fairly drab, but you won't think the laughing kookaburra is ordinary after it opens its beak! Known as the “bushman’s alarm clock” because it has a very loud call, a laughing kookaburra vocalizes in its family group at dawn and dusk. The call sounds like a variety of trills, chortles, belly laughs, and hoots. It starts and ends with a low chuckle and has a shrieking "laugh" in the middle. The song is a way the birds advertise their territory.

Laughing kookaburras are native to woodlands and open forests in Australia, where they perch in large trees and nest in cavities of tree trunks and branches. They keep the same territory year-round, and family groups gather together to announce the boundaries with their distinctive calls. Laughing kookaburras also have different, shorter calls used for finding others, courtship, raising an alarm, showing aggression, and begging for food.

Say kookaburra the way Australians do: “COOK-ah-burr-ah.”
The laughing kookaburra was once known as the laughing jackass.
Many people don't know that they have heard the laughing kookaburra’s song. The call has been used as a sound effect in jungle movies for many years, where it sounds like a group of monkeys.
Since 1990, Australia has had a dollar coin known as the "silver kookaburra."
The children’s song “Kookaburra (Sits in the Old Gum Tree)” was written in 1934 to the tune of a traditional Welsh song.
In the children's song, "Kookaburra", the kookaburra eats “gum drops”—eucalyptus sap—and spies on monkeys. However, kookaburras are carnivorous and monkeys are not found in Australia.
The first hatching of laughing kookaburras in the Western Hemisphere occurred at the San Diego Zoo in 1961.
According to an Aboriginal legend, the laughing kookaburra’s song is a signal for the sky people to light the sun each morning.
Fearless kookaburras have been documented stealing food from a snake.
Laughing kookaburras seem to be able to determine the sex of their offspring: usually, the first egg to be laid in a clutch will be a male and the second egg a female.

San Diego Zoo Global has had kookaburras in our collection on and off since the early 1930s. We currently have two laughing kookaburra ambassadors at the San Diego Zoo and one at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Crikey and Matilda live at the Zoo. They hatched on June 18, 2007, at a private breeding facility and were handled from a very young age so that they would be used to being touched and held by people. Crikey is part of the Zoo’s Backstage Pass program, which offers guests up-close encounters with a variety of wonderful animals. Matilda gets to meet school groups and help with education programs. She will soon be featured in the Zoo’s new Australian Outback habitat, which is scheduled to open in spring 2013.

The Safari Park is home to Zeke, an elder kookaburra who’s still going strong! Hatched on May 19, 1991, at the Audubon Zoo in Louisiana, he arrived at the Park in 1992, where he participates in animal presentations and educational programs. He’s even visited TV news stations during his long career. Zeke enjoys having his trainers spray him with a fine mist of water on warm days, and he responds to a siren’s call with his own song long before his trainers can hear the siren!

All three kookaburra ambassadors have learned to sit on a keeper or trainer’s hand. Kookaburras can hold their heads perfectly still while their body moves so that they can focus on prey while sitting on a swaying branch, and our guests love seeing them do that. It looks like a reverse bobblehead!

Australia is full of unique animals, but the laughing kookaburra must be one of the most well known. The bird prefers dry forests with streams but is also commonly found in backyards, parks, and gardens. Its population is stable in the wild and seems to thrive in the presence of humans: the birds are known to be bold and steal food from picnics, sometimes snatching hot meat straight from the barbeque!

The kookaburra’s natural range is eastern and southern Australia, but in 1897 it was introduced into the southwest corner of the continent and in 1905 into Tasmania as well. Several attempts were made to import the species into New Zealand, but a population became established just around the city of Auckland.

Australians are proud of their famous bird; Olly the Kookaburra was one of three mascots for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.