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Dacelo novaeguineae waterworks.jpg
Laughing Kookaburra in Tasmania, Australia
recorded in south Western Australia
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Coraciiformes
Family: Alcedinidae
Subfamily: Halcyoninae
Genus: Dacelo
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]
Close-up of a kookaburra in Sydney, Australia

Kookaburras are terrestrial tree kingfishers of the genus Dacelo native to Australia and New Guinea, which grow to between 28 and 42 cm (11 and 17 in) in length and weigh around 300 g (11 oz). 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.

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. Though they belong to the larger group known as "kingfishers", kookaburras are not closely associated with water.[2]


The genus Dacelo was introduced by 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]

Classification and species[edit]

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

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.

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.


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 accept handouts and take meat from barbecues. Feeding kookaburras ground beef or pet food is not advised, 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


All kookaburra species are listed as least concern. Australian law protects native birds, including kookaburras.

In culture[edit]

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, or 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.[9]

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.[10] This was the basis for a book for children:

  • Brooke Nicholls; Dorothy Wall (illus.) (1933). Jacko, the Broadcasting Kookaburra — His Life and Adventures. Sydney: Angus & Robertson.



  • "Kookaburra [sits in the old gum tree]", a well-known children's song, was written in 1932 by Marion Sinclair.
  • "Kookaburra", by Cocteau Twins, was released on their EP Aikea-Guinea.
  • "Kookaburra" by John Vanderslice is on his 2007 album Emerald City.
  • The Kookaburras are an English band from the County Durham.
  • The lyric "... the Laughing Kookaburras call ..." appears in the song "Across the Hills of Home" on the album Something of Value by Eric Bogle.
  • BFD Records and BFD Productions, which are the distributors and/or copyright holders of most of the garage rock and psychedelic rock compilation albums in the Pebbles series, have the address Kookaburra, Australia.
  • "Well the kookaburra laughed ..." appeared in the song "Old Man Emu" by John Williamson.
  • Australian band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard features the kookaburra's call in their songs "Doom City" from the album Flying Microtonal Banana and "All Is Known" from the album Gumboot Soup, both released in 2017.

Postage stamps[edit]

B.C.O.F. kookaburra stamp first issued in 1946.
  • A six-pence stamp was issued in 1914.
  • A three-pence commemorative Australian stamp was issued for the 1928 Melbourne International Philatelic Exhibition.
  • A six-pence stamp was issued in 1932.
  • A 38¢ Australian stamp issued in 1990 features a pair of kookaburras.[14]
  • An international $1.70 Australian stamp featuring an illustrated kookaburra was released in 2013.
  • A $1.10 laughing kookaburra stamp issued in 2020


  • An Australian coin known as the Silver Kookaburra has been minted annually since 1990.[15]
  • The kookaburra is featured multiple times on the Australian 20-dollar note.

Usage across sport[edit]


The Australian 12-m yacht Kookaburra III lost the America's Cup in 1987.[16]


The Australia men's national field hockey team is named after the kookaburra. They were world champions in field hockey in 1986, 2010 and 2014.[17]

Sports equipment company[edit]

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


  1. ^ a b 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’s, William Elford (1815). The Zoological Miscellany; being descriptions of new, or interesting Animals. Volume 2. London: B. McMillan for E. Nodder & Son. p. 125. |volume= has extra text (help)
  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. ^ The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow
  10. ^ Jerry Berg. "Jacko, the Broadcasting Kookaburra". Retrieved 3 June 2017.
  11. ^ Of Tarzan and Kookaburras. The Sound and the Foley (2013-08-27). Retrieved on 2019-01-04.
  12. ^ That Jungle Sound. The Sound and the Foley (2013-05-30). Retrieved on 2019-01-04.
  13. ^ Arthur, Nicole. (2003-01-31) Day of the Dolphin. The Washington Post. Retrieved on 2019-01-04.
  14. ^ Bird Stamps of Australia. Birdtheme.org. Retrieved on 2019-01-04.
  15. ^ "Australian Kookaburra". Silver Bullion World. Retrieved 4 November 2013.
  16. ^ "Maritime Topics On Stamps, America Cup, Sailing". Archived from the original on 2008-06-08. Retrieved 2008-06-14.
  17. ^ Hockey Australia: Kookaburras

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]