The laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) is a large kingfisher, native to eastern and southern Australia. It is also known as the laughing jackass.
Sir George Grey liberated kookaburras on Kawau Island (near Auckland) in the late 19th century, and this may be the source of the current population. Introductions to other regions were unsuccessful, and their range is small – from Whāngārei to the Waitākere Ranges near Auckland. Their total New Zealand population is 500 birds or fewer.
Weighing about 350 grams, the kookaburra is five times as heavy as the native kingfisher and nearly twice as long – 45 centimetres. It has a large square head with a sturdy, pointed bill, and a short neck and legs. The wings are dark brown, and some wing feathers have pale blue tips. The underbody is pale, and there is a dark line through the eye and above the bill.
Their call is an unmistakable loud cackle, often on a slowly ascending then descending scale. Family members form a community and chorus together to defend their territory – usually at dawn and dusk.
Kookaburras are carnivorous. They wait on a high perch for prey, then swoop down to catch it, bashing it against their perch before swallowing it. Common foods include lizards, mice, rats, small birds, aquatic invertebrates, snails and worms. Kookaburras also scavenge human food.