Kookaburra – The Laughing Kingfisher

In Britain we are accustomed to seeing the idyllic scene of a kingfisher holding a tiny fish in its beak, perched on a ‘No Fishing’ sign. Iridescent colours sparkling in the morning sunshine. But if we head to the land Down Under we find that not all kingfishers are such delicate gems. Australia boasts the largest member of the kingfisher family – the Laughing Kookaburra.

Laughing Kookaburra

As a child, I had seen kookaburras in a zoo. My great memory of them being my mum and nan, standing by an aviary waiting for the bird to ‘laugh’. As it let out its raucous cackle my mum and nan would collapse laughing. Those moments stay with you forever.

What I hadn’t realised until I moved to Sydney, Australia, was that these birds, as well as being birds of the bush, could also be seen around town. I hadn’t been living there for long when I had my first urban encounter. I walked to the bus stop by a small park for my morning commute, when I heard the cackle that I had not heard since childhood, back in that zoo. I looked up in astonishment to see a plump kookaburra perched on top of a light post above my head.


The kookaburra gets its name from the Aboriginal word of the Wiradjuri people, of the area now known as New South Wales, ‘Guuguuburra’. It is said to refer to the sound of human laughter.

The kookaburra unleashes its famous call just before sunrise, which has led to it being nicknamed The Bushman’s Clock. In aboriginal legend it is the call of the kookaburra that alerts the people of the sky that it is time to light the great fire (the sun) to warm and nourish the earth.


Despite the birds engaging and disarming laughter, the kookaburra is a fierce predator and an opportunistic scavenger. Feeding on a diet of pretty much anything that moves that they can fit in their beak, the kookaburra keeps watch from a perch above, before swooping down to catch its prey. Regular meals include lizards, snakes, frogs, crayfish and even small birds and mammals. It is not uncommon to see an Australian sat on a bench flicking balls of minced beef or pet food to a grateful glutton.

Check out this link if you have not heard a kookaburra laugh before, or even if you have because it is just great! 


The kookaburra is a robust bird. A solid kingfisher that hits a perch hard as it lands. Adult birds can grow up to 45 cm (18 inches) in length, weighing in at up to 455 grams (16 oz). Captive birds have been recorded as  living for 20 years.


The feisty bird in these photographs was relaxing in the morning sunshine in a small park south of Sydney. I walked over slowly and started snapping photographs. The kookaburra looked at me with utter disdain. I lowered the camera and approached a little closer, then closer still. This wild bird showed not one bit of concern. Finally, I reached up and gently stroked its back. The kookaburra hopped round to face me, gave me a look of disbelief that this idiot human could be so presumptuous as to stroke it without asking. It lashed out at me with its dagger-like beak but quick reactions meant I escaped with a mild flesh wound. No doubt about it, I deserved it!


Originally inhabitants of the eucalyptus forest of the east coast of Australia, the kookaburra is one of those birds that has created its own success story. Despite suffering the same habitat loss as many of the fauna that it evolved alongside, it has thrived and remains listed as ‘Least Concern’.

A few days before leaving Australia, while traveling in northern Queensland, I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the considerably more elusive Blue-winged kookaburra. As exciting as this unexpected sighting was, it is the good old, common or garden Laughing kookaburra that I miss. Its laugh, its curiosity and its bad attitude made for a delightful incidental wildlife encounter.


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I am a wildlife blogger and traveler, using images & stories to inspire wild connections.


  1. Salwa Farah

    Another great post. The first time I heard a Kookaburra was when I was visiting with my brother in Queensland – I had no idea what I was hearing. Incredible!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful photos David. I wish I’d managed to get any even half as good. I now live in Canada, but I grew up in Australia so the kookaburra and it’s raucous laugh are very familiar. I even got to be able to imitate it quite well. And every time I go back it’s the sound, along with the screeching of the parrots, that lets me know I’m really home.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi David,

    Lovely shots. We also have Kookaburra’s on the West Coast of Australia but they shouldn’t be here – a relatively recent introduction.

    Worth mentioning they also can count as prey sausages eaten straight off a barbie!

    I just finished reading the re-released Tim Low book “The New Nature” – its got some bits about Kookaburra’s and quite a challenging read for an naturalist with an interest in Australia.

    Cheers Ry

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow!! LOVE their crazy laughter sound! Thanks so much for including that link, David =) I was literally thinking I’d look up their sound a few seconds before saw your link included. And you actually got close enough to pet one! That’s amazing! Glad it was only a small flesh wound ; p Wonderful photos. Love the fierce face!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I so enjoyed this blog post as we often have a Belted Kingfisher couple on our pond diving for small bluegills and “rattling” loudly at us if we disturb them. I had no idea the Kookaburra was a kingfisher and the childhood song “Kookaburra sits in the Old Gum Tree” makes sense now as it speaks of it laughing. Very fun and interesting! Thanks David.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Chris

    Just found this page after watching British war movie “They Who Dare” (1954). I was rather surprised to here the distinctive kookaburra calls more than once in the movie, even though there is no record on IMDB or Wikipedia about any shooting in Australia – they claim England (studios), Malta and Rhodes (Greece).
    Either (1) they DID shoot some scenes in Australia, (2) they used a “bush” sound track that happened to be Australian, or (3) there are other birds in Europe that sound exactly the same. Any ideas?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good spot, Chris! Having heard all kinds of foreign birds in the background of some of my wife’s shows, such as Downton Abbey, and having had a chance to walk through the old BBC sound effects studio when it was still on vinyl, I would bet that it was a sound track error. Pretty big error to put a bird as distinctive as a kookaburra in a European war scene.


  7. KOOKABURAH/ in India is called NEELKANTH /kingfisher with blue neck.
    it is rarely seen. esp. on dushera days it keeps herself hidden somewhere on the trees etc.
    it is dive trait to catch fish is nice. i thought me or indians are eager tosee this lucky bird. but
    people in uk, australia also believe it is a mascot. brings luck and money good journey etc.
    i understand from my experience that when yousee her you will get money within 7 days.
    humming bird black with blue plummage is also mascot and gives money in 7-10 days when you see it.
    theyare fund on trees, gardens, electric post, water etc…….singh from india

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the comment, Singh! The bird that you call Neelkanth I know of as the Indian Roller. A magnificent bird! I hope to see it someday. I think that the Hummingbird that you speak of is what I recognise as a sunbird. I have seen some sunbird species on the Asian continent and they are one of my favourite birds on the planet! I’m not sure that they brought me money, but seeing them was reward enough. Best wishes, David.


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