Kookaburras in Annandale

Between the floods and the resumption of regular service on Green Path we received an email via the Contact page. The observations in it were so good that I asked permission to publish it, and here’s the result. I have used italics for my words to keep them separate; apart from that, I’ve done just a tiny bit of editing for consistency and brevity, and added links where appropriate.

Tue 19/03/2019

G’day Malcolm

My name is Ray and my wife (Judy) and I are retired and live in Annandale, backed onto the creek that runs from the Army base under the A1 and the “Richard I Bong” Bridge on Macarthur Drive. Got your email address from the Green Path website and you seemed quite experienced in birdlife. Thought you might be able to enlighten us – if you have time.

We have been visited lately by  four Blue-winged and one Laughing Kookaburras (see pics attached).

kookaburras, blue-winged and laughing
The visitors (photo: Ray)

As near as I can make out, the (slipped masked not quite covering the eyes) Laughing Kooka and two Blue-winged Kookas are female by standard assessment – with rufous tails and generally less blue than the others. There is another Blue-winged Kooka with a dark blue tail and a lot of blue including a distinct blue back – presumably male – then the fifth one has a rufous tail at upper and lower ends, but has a dark blue patch in the middle of the tail, that appears to defy normal consideration for gender!

Laughing Kookaburra
Laughing Kookaburra (photo: Ray)
Blue-winged Kookaburra
Blue-winged Kookaburra with half-and-half tail (photo: Ray)

Last year we were visited by four different Kookaburras to the five this year – two blue winged Kookas (one bigger older female with distinct / bright orange and black rufous tail and one smaller male with a plain dark blue tail) and two Laughing Kookas, as it turns out, we called “The Twins” as they had the same distinct matching eye masks and “mohawk” brown patches over their heads and matching tails that were less distinct rufous and blue finish as if they were the twin offspring of the other two, not another species!

Spending the bulk of our working life in SE Qld, we were not aware of two different species of Kookaburra because we had always seen the Laughing Kookaburras down south and had always used the gender distinction by the amount of blue in their plumage. Then when we discovered the two different species’ characeristics, we were even more confused this year by the Blue-winged bird with the distinct rufous and blue tail – was it male or female?

What was just as strange, for supposed territorial birds, here were two visiting flocks of mixed species – or are they interbreeding?

Are you able to put any light on this gender plumage and species mixing – or know of some reference source of a study on Kookaburras that could clarify things?

Thu 21/03/2019

Hi, Ray,

Thanks for your excellent observations and photos. 

I believe the Blue-winged Kookaburra with the mixed tail colours is a juvenile. The change in plumage isn’t mentioned in my guidebooks but Ian Montgomery shows one like yours as nr 12 of his 13 shots of the species and identifies it as such. (He knows his stuff, too – Birdway is one of my standard references for our birds.)

I don’t know how long the young ones hang around with the parents but I expect your Blue-winged visitors are a family group. 

As for the mixed-species visitation, I suspect that teritoriality is within the species, not across species lines, i.e., the Blue-winged family has its territory which it would defend against other Blue-winged individuals but not against (e.g.) magpies or (closer competitors) their Laughing cousins. And no, they don’t interbreed – or at least I’ve never heard of it. 

Would you mind if I add your observations to the blog when I find time to re-start it? 

Thu 21/03/2019

G’day Malcolm

Thank you for your reply and your gender identification of our mystery Kookaburras. Thanks also for the Ian Montgomery Birdway reference.

It makes sense on reflection, half blue, half rufous tailed birds being juveniles! Kids, they don’t know what they want to be until they grow up. Lol.

The apparent combination of Kookaburra species may be a defence strategy. The day after I took the photos I sent you, the five Kookaburras were back and just flown back to their favourite tree. There was a proliferation of birdlife in the backyard centred on our bird bath as Judy and I watched from our dining room. Then suddenly, they all disappeared. Judy had only just walked away from our observation spot to make us both mugs of tea, when as I continued to report my observations to her, I saw a shadow fly over. I suspected a Bird of Prey and went out in the garden to identify the shadow. Yet again your “Birds in a Townsville Garden” page quickly identified the visiting Black Kite by its tail and mainly black trimmed, brown plumage.

Before I found your “Green Path”, I had seen it before the floods from a distance of about 100m patrolling above the treetops upstream from our house, but I was not able to identify it at the time. It was the tail that I could not match. Who would have thought a mainly brown bird of prey was called “Black”?

We had correctly identified a visiting Brown Falcon, a much smaller, brown speckled bird of prey, last year. That brown raptor stayed for a week, but we never saw it again.

By way of contrast, this morning we had two Laughing Kookaburras give us a concert from their favourite tree, our second visit in a week of an egret which flies off at the slightest movement inside our house to get a closer view, and our first visit this year of possibly a Collared Kingfisher, depending on gender (according to Birdway could be male). I don’t think it was a sacred or forest kingfisher as the head and beak were dark like Ian’s photos. Sadly, our last kingfisher last year was found dead (rigor mortis had clearly set in) at our front window having clearly collided with the window while we were out.

As it turns out, living backed onto a nature reserve in Annandale has brought out the bird and animal watcher in us. We even have wallabies and occasional red kangaroo, possums, bandicoots, and more bird species than I have seen in one place in my life.

I would be honoured to have my observations recorded on your blog.  Thank you again for your guidance and knowledge.

Regards

Ray

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