At the Zoo
San Francisco Zoo participates in the AZA’s coordinated Population Management Plan for laughing kookaburras.
You might hear our kookaburras before you see them, located in the aviaries across from the chimpanzees.
- Kookaburras are well-known for their cackling call that sounds similar to a human laugh.
- Fossilized remains of kookaburras dating back to 1 million years ago are nearly identical to modern-day kookaburras.
- Of the 315 recognized kingfisher species, the laughing kookaburra is the largest.
Kookaburras are stout birds with square heads and 4 inch beaks. Females may weigh just over a pound and are larger than males. Both have a buff-white underside with dark brown patches across their eyes and cheeks. Their wings are mottled brown and grey, with small blue dots and their short tail is reddish and barred. Chicks are born helpless but nearly the same size as adults. Their dark bills lighten as they age and remain cream colored into adulthood.
Lifespan in the wild is up to 11 years, and up to 20 years in the captivity.
Laughing kookaburras inhabit eucalyptus forest and woodland throughout eastern and southern Australia, and were introduced to parts of Tasmania. Their selection of habitat depends primarily on the availability of tree hollows for nesting.
Kookaburras are carnivores, feeding on earthworms, insects, snails, crayfish, frogs, lizards, snakes, rodents and small birds.
Kookaburras are usually seen in pairs or small family groups. These small groups consist of an adult mating pair, several juvenile offspring and dependent chicks. A behavior called “sparring”, in which birds grip each other’s bill and twist, helps to establish a dominance hierarchy among the group.
Their characteristic laughing call is often heard at dawn and dusk to help reinforce a group’s territory. Communication among kookaburras is thought to be quite complex, with different calls used to alert group members of a predator, to remain in contact with birds out of sight, or that a suitable nesting site has been found.
This species is monogamous and pairs occupy a well defined territory. Holes made in mountain gum trees are preferred nesting sites. Females lay 2-4 white eggs that are incubated for 24-26 days. All members of the group are tasked with incubating and feeding chicks. After assisting their parents in rearing younger siblings, females disperse after 1-2 years, while males disperse at 2-4 years of age.
Status In The Wild
Laughing kookaburras are listed as least concern by the IUCN. Their populations have, however, declined in areas where farmland or forests are developed for residential use.