With a distinct call – often described like a series of chuckles, cackles and laughs – the Laughing Kookaburra produces one of the most recognized sounds in nature.
The so-called “laugh” of the Laughing Kookaburra is sometimes mistaken for the sound of other animals, such as monkeys.
Recordings of the Laughing Kookaburra call have long been used for South American or African jungle scenes in movies and television shows; however, these birds live far from these tropical locations. Kookaburras are native to Australia and are often found in open woodlands and eucalyptus forests.
A member of the Kingfisher family, there are four species of Kookaburras. The Blue Winged, the Spangled, the Rufous-bellied and the Laughing Kookaburra.
The Blue-winged Kookaburra has blue and brown wings and a white head and chest. Males of this species have blue tail feathers, while females‘ tail feathers are rusty brown with black bands. They are native to northern Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
The Spangled Kookaburra have a buff or pale orange chest; black and white spotted head; black or dark brown and blue wings; blue rump and tail feathers. They are native to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
The Rufous-bellied Kookaburra has a black cap and back, white bill, blue wings, and a rusty, or rufous, belly. Males have blue tail feathers, females have rufous colored ones. They are native to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
The laughing kookaburra has a white colored head and chest; brown wings, crown and eye band; rusty brown tail feathers with black bands; and may have blue spots on their wings. They are native to eastern Australia, but have been introduced to southwestern Australia, Tasmanian and even part of New Zealand.
At around 17 inches from bill to tail and weighing around 11 ounces, the Laughing Kookaburra is the largest of species of Kingfisher birds.
The Laughing Kookaburras use their song as a way of establishing their territory. A chorus of laughs is often started by adults and followed by family members. Since they often vocalize at dawn or dusk, they are sometimes called the “bushman’s alarm clock”.
While Kookaburras are often found in eucalyptus—or gum—trees, they likely won’t be eating any “gum drops”—despite what is sung in a famous song. Kookaburras are carnivores that feed mainly on insects, small mammals, worms, frogs and reptiles such as snakes. Although they are considered Kingfishers, Kookaburras do not commonly eat fish.
Kookaburras locate prey by using their excellent vision. They will swoop down, seize prey with their bill and carry it to their perch where they will often beat it against a branch or the ground to immobilize it and tenderize it by breaking up the bones and making it easier to swallow whole. These birds rarely drink water since they receive the water they need from food.
Kookaburras are monogamous and pair up for life. They nest in holes in trees and termite mounds where the female lays two or three round, white eggs that hatch after about 20-25 days. Chicks, often when they hatch around the same time, will fight for dominance—sometimes leading to one being killed. This behavior is seen in other bird species as well.
The pair is assisted by helper-birds, which are often the pair’s older offspring who have fledged. They incubate the eggs, feed the chicks and keep them warm as well as helping defend the pair’s territory. After they are about four years old, the chicks will leave their parents and find their own territories.
Kookaburras live around 10-15 years in the wild, but may live up to 20 years in managed care.
Large birds of prey, such as owls and eagles, may hunt kookaburras; eggs are sometimes taken by possums; chicks can be prey for quolls, snakes and lizards.
While the Laughing Kookaburra’s conservation status is “least concern“ and their populations seem to be stable, this doesn’t mean they’re free of danger. Deforestation threatens these iconic creature’s native woodland habitats.
While they seem to have adapted well to the presence of human, this has lead to many problems for the Kookaburras. The birds are often hit by cars and introduced and invasive predators such as foxes and cats often prey upon many native bird species including the Kookaburras.
Kookaburras may steal food from or even take handouts from people. This type of interaction can lead to the birds becoming too dependent on humans for food or even cause them to become overweight through improper diet — making it difficult, or even impossible, for the birds to fly and escape predators.
Though there are more than 100 species of Kingfisher birds found in the world – with it’s distinct voice – the Laughing Kookaburra is certainly the most well-known.
The Dingo is a canine species similar in appearance to domestic dogs but characterized by short coats, erect ears, characteristic skull shape and teeth.
While the Dingoes of Australia have long been considered to be a descendant of Asian wild dogs and most closely related to Asian Grey Wolves – the Dingo is neither a wolf or a dog – though they often interbreed with feral and domestic dog species.
Australia’s only native canid, Dingos are 4 to 5 feet long and weigh up to 45 pounds. They most commonly have a tan colored coat – however they may be light, dark, even black or white in color. Some dingoes have a sable coloration typical of German Shepherd dogs.
Dingoes inhabit the mainland of Australia and some parts of southeast Asia. They are believed to have been introduced to Australia by Indonesian and Asian travelers or by migrating across now submerged land masses that once connected parts of the island continent with Asia.
Dingoes are considered wild animals and can be very shy and timid by nature. They are very intelligent with excellent problem solving abilities. While dingoes have the potential to be dangerous to humans, in reality the incidence of attacks on humans is relatively rare. The risk is increased where the animals have become used to humans through feeding and other interactions – activities that are highly discouraged with any wild species.
These unique canine species are very resourceful and can adapt to a variety of environments. They can be found in coastal terrain, alpine ranges and even desert regions of the Australian Outback.
Animals found in different habitats often have different colored fur coats – Desert Dingoes tend to be more reddish or golden-yellow while Alpine Dingoes have a light cream colored coat.
Dingoes are carnivores and in fact are Australia’s apex land-based predator. They hunt mainly at night. They prey upon small to medium sized mammals like rabbits, rodents and various Macropod species as well as birds and reptiles but they are known to hunt larger animals as well.
Unlike wild dogs, Dingoes generally lead solitary lives but they may be part of a pack the comes together every few days or weeks. They are solitary hunters when small prey is abundant but hunt in packs when larger animals are available.- Dingoes will work together to take down large prey such as Red Kangaroos.
Dingoes are very agile animals, capable of leaping 6 feet in the air from a standing position due to flexible bone formations in their feet. They are also quite lean in build and their skull – which is 30% larger than that of a domestic dog – is the widest part of their body – this trait allows them to determine quickly if they can fit through tight or confining spaces without becoming stuck.
Dingoes breed only once a year in autumn or early winter. After the pups are born in late winter or spring, mothers will feed their young milk as well as chewed meat. Both parents look after the pups for at least a year until they can survive on their own.
Like wolves but different from most dogs – Dingoes don’t bark but will howl to vocalize. These sounds are often described as eerie or haunting – especially when heard in the darkness of night.
Dingoes also lack the distinctive body odor of domestic dogs – an important trait as a wild, natural predator.
Dingoes are currently a protected and managed species in Australia but over the years they have often been considered a threat to domestic livestock. As a result, in the early 1900s – a large fence, now measuring more than 3800 miles long was erected to keep Dingoes from agricultural areas of South Australia. Known as the Dingo Fence and still maintained it is currently considered the longest fence in the world.
The effects of Dingoes in native Australia have been many. The animals have played an important role in the culture of Australia’s First Nations people for generations and they have proven to be effective at maintaining populations of introduced predators such as feral cats and foxes. These invasive predators have had a negative effect on many of Australia’s native and endangered marsupials and reptiles.
Dingoes have also been noted for keeping kangaroo populations in check and stable – in places inside the Dingo Fence region, kangaroo populations have soared leading to overgrazing of landscape and damaging critical vegetation.
The classification of Dingoes has often been debated and even controversial. Originally considered descendants of wolves or other dog species, and due to their common breeding with feral animals leading to hybrid dingo-dogs they have been listed as a vulnerable species.
A recent committee from the Canid Specialist Group even suggested that Dingoes were merely a feral domestic dog – leading to their removal from the IUCN Red List.
However another study from the University of New South Wales Sydney – including DNA analysis and studies of skull specimens dating prior to 1900 have suggested that Dingoes are in fact a unique and separate canine species. It has now been suggested that Desert and Alpine Dingoes may be discrete subspecies and inter-breeding between these animals should be prevent to maintain the genetically diversity of these animals.
Today it is estimated that only a few hundred pure Dingoes remain in the wild in Australia – most notably on Fraser Island off the coast of Queensland.
Some Dingo populations are also managed by zoological facilities. The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in Indiana, the Brevard Zoo in Florida and the Prospect Park Zoo in New York are some accredited facilities that are home to pure Dingoes – a managed population that is genetically important to the future of the species.
Australia – the land Down Under. This island continent is home to some of the world’s most unique and often beloved animals. It also also home to the expansive habitat range known as the Outback.
The Outback comprises 81 percent of the island continent and is home to the largest marsupial in the world – the Australian icon – the Red Kangaroo.
The largest of the 6 kangaroo species, Red Kangaroos have a body length of up to 5 feet long and a tail nearly 3 feet long. Male Red Kangaroos can stand upright at 6 feet tall. Males may weigh around 200 pounds – while females are smaller, often weighing less than 100 pounds with a body length of 3 to 4 feet. They have a narrow head, long nose and tall pointed ears that they are able to rotate 180 degrees.
Kangaroos a classified as Macropods. The term means “big feet” and includes other animals like wallabies, wallaroos, tree kangaroos and quokkas. Macropods are a group of species whose hind legs and feet are typically much larger and more powerful than the forelimbs. They possess long, muscular tails that help them balance and turn while hopping – their primary form of moving. One exception to this is the tree-dwelling Tree Kangaroos, who climb rather than hop.
Red Kangaroos cannot walk forward or backward. Instead, like most Macropod species, they move in a unique way unique – called saltation. As they hop, both feet push off the ground together.
While moving Kangaroos expend very little energy. In addition to powerful leg muscles, Kangaroos have a huge set of tendons in their tail that attach to the hipbones. The combination of these muscles and tendons working together helps kangaroos move efficiently.
In fact, kangaroos actually burn less energy the faster they hop, their typical cruising speed is around 20 miles per hour. The largest male Red Kangaroos are able to cover a distance of nearly 29 feet in a single leap, often traveling close to 40 miles per hour.
Red kangaroos are found in arid regions of mainland Australia, most commonly in open savanna woodland of the Outback. They are perfectly equipped for harsh conditions, needing very few natural water sources as they receive all the water and minerals they need from grasses, shrubs and foliage they feed on.
Red Kangaroos are exclusively plant eaters. A tube-shaped fore stomach helps digest fibrous vegetation, including types considered unpalatable even to goats. This ability to utilize high fiber diets is common among animals like horses – a kangaroo’s stomach is said to be much like the colon of a horse.
Red Kangaroos are typically inactive during the hottest parts of the day, usually resting under shade trees. They are most active grazing at dawn and dusk.
They sweat while moving and pant when they stop making use of their large nasal passages. In addition they have a dense network of blood vessels near the surface of the skin on their forearms. They lick their forearms, coating them with a special saliva – which is different from digestive saliva. This kangaroo spit helps cool the blood through water evaporation helping to pull heat away from the warm blood near the surface.
Red Kangaroos can survive in a wide range of temperatures – from freezing temperatures to well over 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
Red Kangaroos can be easily distinguished from other species by the black and white patches on their cheeks and white tail tip. They often have a white stripe that extends from the corner of the mouth to the ear.
Unlike other kangaroos, male and female Red Kangaroo a colored differently. Males – have the red and orange coloration while females are typically grey-blue in color – giving them the nickname “blue-flyers.” In some regions, certain populations of Red Kangaroo feature females that also share in the red and orange coloring of the males.
Male Red Kangaroos are often called “boomers” – they will often spar or fight with rival males in a behavior known as “boxing.” Both males will use their strong tail for balance, sit back and use their forelimbs to jab and hit each, They will also hold each other’s shoulders while kicking with their hind legs as well in an attempt to establish dominance and gain the right to breed with nearby females.
Kangaroos are marsupials – a group of mammals, including koalas, who give live birth, but they do not have long gestation times like placental mammals. Instead, they give birth very early and the young animal, essentially a helpless embryo, climbs from the mother’s birth canal to the pouch where it latches onto a nipple a remains there while it continues to develop.
A newborn Red Kangaroo looks nothing a a kangaroo at all. Similar in size to a jellybean, it weighs less than a gram. It must climb from the birth canal and into the mother’s pouch – a trip which takes about 3 minutes. This is done without any assistant from the mother kangaroo at all.
The baby kangaroo – called a “joey” stays permanently attached to the nipple for about 70 days suckling and continuing to develop. Females nurse their young for about a year, carrying them in the pouch for the first eight months. Females may have one joey in the pouch and an older joey outside the pouch but still nursing.
The Red Kangaroo breeds all year round, however spring and summer tend to be times when most young are born. The females have the unique ability to delay birth of their baby until their previous Joey has left the pouch. This is called embryonic diapause. This allows a viable embryo to be carried in the uterus for many months until the previous joey leaves the pouch.
The young Joey will permanently leave the pouch at around 235 days old, but will continue to suckle on the original teat until it reaches 12 months of age. During this time, the female is able to produce two different types of milk, one for the joey outside the pouch and one for another newborn embryo that will often be developing on another teat in the pouch simultaneously.
The female consumes feces and urine of joey in her pouch, thus recycling 1/3 of water used to produce milk.
It is illegal to kill, buy, sell or possess a kangaroo in Australia however certain permitted hunts have been established to help manage the population in some areas. 60-70% of kangaroos harvested are for pet meat.
They can live more than 20 years in the wild and while Red Kangaroos can survive on little water, extended droughts in the desert regions can affect their health and lifespan. Another threat includes their primary predator – the dingo.
As Australia’s largest land mammal, the Red Kangaroo is one of the most recognizable and beloved creatures of the animal kingdom.
Special thanks to the following organizations for their education, research and conservation programs that provided information for this episode:
Central Florida Zoo
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo
Queensland Government Department of Environment and Science
San Diego Zoo Global Library
Sea World’s Animal Guide
Woodland Park Zoo
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