The Laughing Kookaburra is Australia’s most iconic bird, and possibly our most popular. It generally is a very placid natured bird relatively trusting of humans, co habitating especially if fed by them. They can become a problem like many Australia’s wild birds if they become regularly dependent on human’s feeding them. It is found throughout the forests of eastern Australia and far south west WA. The ‘Kooka’ as most of us know it, is a territorial bird like many of our birds, and can be found in the same geographical area most of the year, which makes it easy to locate.
Kookas are known for their loud laugh like call, which is often sounded in a family group from sunrise, various times through the day and sunset, where several birds will call together for periods of twenty seconds to several minutes, often being led by one bird. It became known to the early European settlers as ‘The Settlers Clock’ because the birds will sit in a tall eucalypt tree facing east waiting for the first light of the sun and then begin marking their territory, often moving from area to area repeating their call and marking their boundary, warding off other Kooka families. Listen to the morning call of several Kookas…
Listen to this one Kooka as he idles his laugh which usually results shortly after in the group sounding off again.
Here is a capture at sunset…
The same may occur several times through the day, but more importantly just before sunset they may be found facing west and putting out a final call for day as the sun is about to set. Thus in the early days with isolation and lack of accurate Eastern Standard Time for many in the bush, the call of the Kookaburra would wake the farmer in the morning to commence his day, and also alert him to sunset and the need to get back to house quickly to light the lamps for the night.
One of the great delights of living in Australia is the sound of the Kookaburras first thing in the morning. My wife and I always get excited to hear their call when they stray into our area, as we do not have resident ones, possibly due to the extremely aggressive nature of our local Noisy Miners. Kookas are one of the few birds that will tolerate being attacked by Miners, but will move on if too many persistently attack and bite, but not moving too far away.The Kookaburra mainly feeds on worms, insects and the flesh of snakes, lizards, frogs, birds and small mammals, by pouncing on their prey from a branch or perch. They are known for killing their prey with their very thick strong beak by bashing the prey against a tree to kill it. Even if you feed it dead meat it will still go through the process of ‘killing’ it by beating it to death. They are often seen doing this to snakes.
Blue-winged Kookaburra female
Blue-winged Kookaburra male
In Australia we have two species of Kookaburra, the Laughing and the Blue Winged. Though they both have blue on their wings, the Blue Winged has much more, is a slightly smaller bird and is only found in far north Australia. Its call is not at loud and regular as the Laughing Kooka.
Kookaburra are large tree Kingfishers, being a similar bird, of the same genus Dacelo, having amazing better than average binocular vision which allows for very exacting triangulation. The main way to discern the breeding male from the female is that the male has a bright blue colored rump (central back feathers) whereas the female and immature both lack this.
I have witnessed several times a Kookaburra fly through an open air cafe and remove the meat portion of a hamburger while the patron is left holding the bun and lettuce. If you are gardening they will sit on the fence right next to you and silently watch as you dig, then suddenly plunge down right in front of you and grab a worm you did not even see was there.
The Kookaburra makes its nest in the holes found in trees and more often will bore a hole into a termite or white ant mound and make a simple nest there. In a similar way to the Magpie, the whole family may assist in the incubation, building and care of the nest. This Kookaburra is defending its white ant nest hole against an intruding Rainbow Lorikeet.
approach of Rainbow Lorikeet
Warning beak and sound given from nest
Kooka attacks lorikeet with zeal
Kooka in pursuit
This juvenile Kookaburra is fed by the parent worms and small lizards, until it is able to fend for itself.
Here are some rare shots of a male Kookaburra diving completely into the water of a fresh water lake. The question it raises is: washing or fishing? I have since wondered if this Kooka is attempting to copy the Cormorants it would have watched fish, diving beneath the water and emerging with a fish. Maybe he was trying his hand (or claw) at it. It was an interesting and rare capture regardless.
In my book ‘What Birds Teach Us‘ I sight the Kookaburra as an example for us of Punctuality due to its predictable sunrise and sunset call. I have lived for years believing the myth that many of us were told when young that Kookaburras can predict rain and as a result I have been both amazed and also let down (embarrassed) from this belief. This myth may have some truth to it, but does not follow for every occasion. I often hear them call when an impending storm of dark Cumulonimbus clouds can be seen on the horizon, this may also be a coincidence.
This may be my last weekly blog post for a while as I consider my future. My job has been terminated and I am currently seeking God as to my next step. Due to the low numbers in local birds (caused mostly by drought) and having not traveled recently I have no new material. I am considering if this is the time to commence writing my second book. Thank you my dear bird blogger friends for your warm encouraging support. I will continue to post occasionally until I am properly sorted.
“Bestillbefore the Lordandwait patiently for him…” – Psalm 37:7 (NIV)
Enjoy your week and please pray for the best outcome for our Federal Election next Month.
This week, by request of Jem, a valued blog follower from Sydney’s northern beaches area, I am retracing the Narrabeen Lagoon Trail walk.
Bodies of water (lakes, lagoons swamps, rivers, creeks and beaches) all offer ideal spots to go birding. In fact when we visit a new area, it is usually one or more of the above we seek out, because we always find that near water, fresh or brackish, there are both waterbirds as well as passerines in the surrounding trees and bushes. Birds are often found in greater numbers near a fresh water source, especially when nesting. Many waterbirds have the ability to drink salty water having been blessed with a built in distillation plant. You may wonder what the above Australian Pelican is doing? I will let you know towards the end of the post because that is where it occurs on the trail.
The local council invested a few years ago in building a quality trail with paths, footbridges, picnic and BBQ facilities, toilets, water fountain, boat ramp and seats at various places around the lake/lagoon (its big enough to call a lake) which has paid off handsomely for them, as many come to walk and use the facilities provided at a small parking cost. My wife and I have enjoyed walking around the lake from Middle Creek Reserve (follow yellow arrows). We did the complete walk and logged the birds along the way that we considered notable.
Our first bird of course is the bird we almost always see first when ever we travel Australia, the Willy Wagtail getting its name from fanning and wagging its tail. Willy is the largest of the Australian fantails and has a beautiful song which has led us astray many times in our early birding years thinking we had discovered a lifer, but we are wiser to its call now. As we passed the golf course we sighted a pair of, you guessed it! Masked Lapwings. Notorious for nesting in centre of mowed fields and park lands. The male stood guard as the female nested.
Masked Lapwing Male standing watch
Masked Lapwing Female nesting
Despite the crazy places they nest, they have a high survival rate and become quite aggressive to any who threaten the nest, or even come within yards of it, including dogs, cats and other birds. They are in the Plover family and are a shorebird by nature but have become one of our most numerous birds being found all over Australia except central WA. As we walked around the trail and over the excellent footbridge we started seeing the lake from the southern end where out in the middle on a sandbar a flock of Australian Black Swan and Australian Pelican were sleeping and resting. Black swan are breeding well here, as they are all over Australia. Like many birds they tuck their face under the feathers and rest their head on their back to sleep, this allows them to rest their neck muscles as well as warm the air they breath, increasing their body temperature.
On another sandbank a small flock of Pied Cormorant were resting.
As we walked into a very small pocket of rainforest near South Creek Reserve we were delighted to find two sort after birds simultaneously on each side of the trail, making it difficult to know where to point the camera. My wife is calling me to photograph a beautiful pair of Variegated Fairy-wren while I am tracing a male Eastern Whipbird, and trying to catch sight of a youngster running beneather the Bracken Fern, which eluded me after much trying. Immature Whipbirds lack the white cheeks. I was delighted that this adult, normally shy and extremely elusive, did not mind too much me checking him out.
Gottagettawayfrom this Aussiebirder guy
The bird is usually spotted due to its whip like call which intensifies its volume as it resonates off the eucalypt leaves in trees around. They use the call to communicate between male and female and to mark territory, so that other Whipbirds stay away. The male whips and the female (if she is present will follow immediately with a quick “Tish tish” You can tell from the call if it is a lone Male, a lone female, an immature or a breeding pair. Listen to the male and female here.
Yes, and the beautiful Variegated Fairy-wren so brilliant in the sunshine, unlike the more common Superb Fairy-wren, the female also has a blue tail like the male.
Also in this little pocket just along from here we heard and located this Brown Thornbill, who’s call you heard in last weeks post, as it merrily makes its way checking trees for insects which make up its main diet. They do enjoy foraging in our native Casuarina pine trees.
Nearbye this Eastern Yellow Robin was at work catching and dismembering a grub it had found. These are birds commonly seen near rainforest trails, and are very curious of humans, often following them along the trail in a similar way to Grey Fantails, hoping we might turn up something edible as we walk.
Tiny Silvereye were also checking for insects in the small trees near the Brown Thornbill.
A very noisy, almost angry squawking sound came from inside a small palm, which turned out to be that of non other than the White-browed Scrubwren, known for this behaviour. They often appear to even have an angry look on their face, especially if you come near their nest
This tame immature Grey Butcherbird was quite cute, and did not seem too worried about us, as I have seen has been the case on several other occasions with immature Butcherbirds, who have not learned to fear humans.
In a darker section where the trees thickly covered the track, another typically rainforest bird the Lewins Honeyeater was trying to keep cool in the shade, but did not like us trying to observe it on this hot January day.
As we moved into the open we found quite a number, several families of our Eastern (Black-backed) Magpie. The Magpie survive well because of their very efficient and organised family structure involving relatives such as aunts and uncles assisting when nesting and training the fledglings. Here are two males, they have a pure white neck back, the seldom seen female (nesting most of the time) has a dirty white neck back. The alpha male may or may not have several ladies nesting at the same time, and it becomes his sole occupation during that time to feed them, as they stay on the nest, and the relatives defend the nests.
Male Eastern (Black-backed) Magpie
Passing by the water again we see this Little Pied Cormorant, another breed smaller than the Pied we saw previously, and the bonus blessing was to see for the first time, the orange (morph) which results from a chemical change staining their feathers due to iron in the water.
The Australian Pelican was also seen cruising along the shoreline.
Along the mudflats of the shoreline the commonly seen White-faced Heron was now in breeding plumage striding carefully about,it finds fast food or should I say food fast. Notice the pic of the extended neck upward, this is a protective ploy to make it look bigger and more threatening when it feels it may be facing danger, after noticing our presence, other Herons do the same.
The Crested Pigeon, our most common native pigeon is found all over Australia, including desert regions, we saw plenty of them at Uluru in the red centre last year, it is also at home here by the lake.
From his tree this Laughing Kookaburra sat watching the passes by and with his very sharp binocular vision was looking for food opportunities that might run across the ground in the form of small reptiles and the like.
After a fishnchip lunch in the small town of Narrabeen we continued our walk over the bridge and along the side of the lake and the Wakehurst Parkway where we saw this beautiful sight. Rainbow Lorikeets love eating the nectar of native flowers such as Bottlebrush and Grevileas as well as native fruits, they have a tongue that is especially adapted to brush the pollen and nectar into their mouth.
As we almost come to the end of our journey the noise of Cicadas becomes deafening, so we stopped to look for one of these noisy male insects giving our its mating call to attract miss right. Watch and you will see how it makes its sound using its abdomen.
Finally we are almost at the end of our journey and we could see across the southern end of the lake to the other side where we were walking earlier that morning, but to our surprise a large Pelican (see my first photo) suddenly took fright and lunged into the air with great effort and a cry of distress, only to land some distance away. Most birds get terrified of raptors because they eat other birds, no matter how large or small. That is often how we know a raptor is flying overhead, by the crazy activity of bird flocks. We were about to receive the icing on the cake blessing from our Most Generous Father for the end of a perfect day. We looked and behold it was!
A beautiful large adult White-bellied Sea-Eagle carrying some prey which looked like a snake, which it dropped and then went searching for. It is very unusual for an eagle to drop its prey as its talons come with a a locking in device. Possibly it did not have firm hold of it and it was still alive and got the better of it. Please be aware these photos were taken a great distance across the lake, to the other side. Eagles are the greatest hunters of all with telescopic binocular vision (up to 10x our own) and can spot a rabbit in over 3km away. Their powerful talons when locked will both instantly kill their prey and hold it secure. They can fly above storm clouds and ride effortlessly without moving a feather for hours on the thermals. If you have been to a Raptor Show you will know that their eye to object accuracy is only a couple of millimeters error, which means they can take a tiny piece of meat out of you fingers while flying past without touching you at all, I have personally experienced this.
Is it any wonder the eagle is used as a symbol of strength and justice in national and state emblems and coats of arms. It is the majestic king of birds, having greatest ability in all areas. Our Wedge-tailed Eagle (our largest eagle) appears on our NSW police force coat of arms. In the Bible God is seen as a great saving eagle who carries to safety those whom he loves and also trust in him. God reminds Israel how he saved them.
“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” – Exodus 19:4 (NIV)
Again the eagle is used to depict those who trust completely in God’s grace to bring them through difficult times, so that he will give them renewed strength like the eagles’…
Eagles live long lives, and go through a molting process where they loose all their feathers and look like they are almost dead, then they get a new lease of life with new feathers and beak etc giving them many more years, becoming stronger and more powerful. So God will sustain and strengthen those who delight in him, and look to him for help and strength.
“who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” – Psalm 103:5 (NIV)
Which resonates in this verse referring to those who trust in God…
“They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green” – Psalm 92:14 (NIV)
I am always amazed and giving thanks for how my Loving Father God keeps me and brings me through so much in life, as I choose to rest in and trust in his strength to carry me above the worries and cares of this world. I finish by sharing a song I wrote in my younger years. It is simply recorded on my computer without any fancy software, so please don’t judge it too harshly. The message is one which I use often to ‘rise above it all’, to soar on God’s thermals and view life from above from his kingdom perspective, and then like the eagle you will have courage, power and peace to conquer – so that your apparent problems become God given challenges you can achieve ‘with the help of his strength and grace.’ shaping and making. Moreover we know that to those who love God, who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good. God, in his foreknowledge, chose them to bear the family likeness of his Son [Jesus]. – Romans 8:28 (JB Phillips Trans.)
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Have a wonderful week and Aussies keep cool and praying as we brave these relentless heatwaves and destructive storms. Many birds have already died as a result, including inland freshwater fish and other animals. Pray for a break in the drought.