Animal Diaries Archive
Tik educates the public
17 November 2006
Educating people about our beautiful animals and their conservation lies at the very heart of our work here at Australia Zoo – and we in the Wandering Wildlife (or Roving) team and our animals take this task very seriously. With this foremost in our mind, Tik, a beautiful Laughing Kookaburra, and I set out on a rove. While I enjoy sharing Tik, this most Australian of all Australian birds, with our visitors and we both delight at the enjoyment people receive from hearing his laugh or having a photo, Tik and I both know that we have a job to do.
Tik was not born at Australia Zoo, but came to us via the Australian Wildlife Hospital. He had been rescued after an unfortunate incident with a car. Like all animals brought into the hospital, it was hoped that he would be rehabilitated and returned to the wild but, sadly for Tik, his wing was too badly damaged. For a bird of prey whose method for attaining food involves swooping down abruptly on unsuspecting prey before snatching it in their powerful beak, not being able to fly means starvation and certain death. Luckily for Tik, though, our roving family here at Australia Zoo is always willing to accept another member and so began Tik’s new life as a very special kookaburra who was out to educate the public.
When we venture out on a rove one of the main messages we wish to convey is that there is in fact more than one type of kookaburra in Australia. Tik wants it made very clear that although there are two species of kookaburras native to Australia, it is he, the Laughing Kookaburra, and not his relative the Blue-winged Kookaburra, who is the most famous. It is the Laughing Kookaburra whose familiar image has graced everything from official coats of arms to tins of boot polish. It is the Laughing Kookaburra whose call is instantly recognisable by all Australians and, yes, it is the Laughing Kookaburra who has a well known children’s song (Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree) written about him. In fact, Tik believes he is almost as famous a symbol of Australia as the koala and the kangaroo!
While Laughing and Blue-winged Kookaburras have similar breeding, nesting and feeding habits, their range, colouration and call differ. Laughing Kookaburras are native to the eastern flank of Australia from Cape York (QLD) to the Eyre Peninsula (SA) and have been introduced to Tasmania, Flinders and Kangaroo Islands, south-west WA as well as New Zealand. Blue-winged Kookaburras, on the other hand, are restricted to the northern coastal fringes of Australia from Shark Bay – Pilbara (WA) to approximately 50km south-west of Brisbane (QLD) as well as New Guinea.
The Laughing Kookaburra is slightly larger, has a white head with a dark brown line over the crown and distinctive dark brown ‘ear-patches’. Eyes are brown. Wings are brown with mottled pale blue and the tail is rufous barred dark brown. Only males have a blue tinge on the upper rump. Beak is black above and yellowish below. The Blue-winged Kookaburra is slightly smaller but more colourful. It is distinguished by a white head streaked with dark brown and white eyes. There is copious blue in the wings and both genders possess a pale blue rump. Males have a deep blue tail and females a rufous tail barred blue-black. Beak is grey above and yellowish below.
One of the most obvious differences between the two kookaburras, as their names suggest, is their call – one laughs, the other does not. Tik loves it when our Blue-winged Kookaburras call and I ask the public, ‘What bird is that?’ The usual reply is, ‘Well it looks like a kookaburra but it doesn’t sound like one’. Tik’s famous territorial proclamation, or call, strongly resembles the sound of human laughter and is one of the most familiar and well-loved sounds of the Australian bush. You may even have heard it on a movie soundtrack! The Blue-winged Kookaburra’s call, however, is recognised by very few. Its sound is higher and more rapid than the Laughing Kookaburra’s and is sometimes described as a ‘howl’ rather than a ‘laugh’. Others believe it sounds more like a barking or coughing noise. This is why the Laughing Kookaburra is alternatively known as the Laughing Jackass while the Blue-winged Kookaburra is called the Barking or Howling Jackass.
Armed with this information, Tik hopes that next time you spot (or even hear) a kookaburra you will be able to determine whether it is a famous Laughing Kookaburra like him or one of his not-so-famous relatives, the Blue-winged Kookaburra. Don’t forget to tune in next week to read what Tik has to say about feeding kookaburras in 'Tik Educates the Public – Part Two'. Until then, happy kookaburra spotting!