Kookaburras, known formally as Dacelo novaeguineae, are members of the kingfisher family and native to the forests of South and Eastern Australia. The bird is an iconic figure in Australian ornithology, and many Australian writers discuss the kookaburra and its distinctive call in their work. The bird is also known as the “Bushman's Clock” or "Laughing Jackass" because of its song, which resembles derisive laughter. As kookaburras are quite gregarious and wake up early in the morning, the forest can be filled with their loud calls back and forth to each other. The birds have a squat, friendly appearance which is quite endearing, and often leads people to feed them and offer shelter, a decision which is sometimes later regretted.
The name “kookaburra” is an Aboriginal onomatopoeia for the way the birds sound when they call. Kookaburras grow to be about the size of ravens, rarely exceeding 17 inches (43 centimeters) in height with dense, stocky brown and white bodies and long beaks. During the nesting season, the parents build the nest and incubate the eggs together through the 25 day incubation period, and both bring food to the nestlings for the month long period before they are able to fly. For one month after fledging, the parents will feed their young before expecting them to support themselves.
Like other forest kingfishers around the world, kookaburras do not actually fish. The birds are carnivorous and eat small vertebrates, insects, and sometimes other birds. They have also been known to steal food from picnics and barbecues, even if only left unattended for a moment. Because of their tendency to prey on young birds, some Australian farmers have a contentious relationship with kookaburras, who are quite fond of ducklings and chicks. Kookaburras build nests made out of mud and sticks in the trunks of slightly rotted trees or termite mounds, and prefer to nest in enclosed areas deep inside the forest for better protection.
Kookaburras are long-lived birds, with a life expectancy of up to 20 years, and they form large social flocks which often include multiple generations of children. It is not uncommon for older siblings to look after the younger generation for several years before finding mates themselves, and the families live together in a fixed forest location, rather than migrating. The loud call of kookaburras serves both as a method of communication and as a way to stake out territory, indicating that the space is not open to colonization by other birds.