Two kinds of Kookaburra

Laughing kookaburra on branch
Laughing Kookaburra in Ross River parkland
Blue-winged Kookaburra on banch
Blue-winged Kookaburra in the Palmetum

Australia has two species of kookaburra, the Laughing Kookaburra, Dacelo novoguineae, and the Blue-winged Kookaburra, Dacelo leachii. The first of them is the better known, since its range (originally a broad swathe down the whole East coast and now including Tasmania and SW Western Australia thanks to human intervention) is more heavily populated than that of its Blue-winged cousin (an arc around the Northern coast from Brisbane to the same latitude in WA). They are very similar in both appearance and habits:

  • Both inhabit open woodlands and both occur around Townsville. We see them frequently along the Ross River parklands and sometimes in and around our own garden.
  • Both have blue on their wings, but the Laughing has less blue on the wing, no blue on the rump or tail, and a dark streak behind the eye.
  • Both laugh, but differently: Slater’s Field Guide describes the Laughing Kookaburra’s call as “chuckling” and the Blue-winged’s as “maniacal”.
  • Both reach the same maximum size but the average size of the Blue-winged is smaller than that of the Laughing.
  • Both live in small groups, eat reptiles and large insects, and nest in tree hollows.
  • Both are Kingfishers. The relationship is easy to see in this Birdway gallery and in fact the Laughing Kookaburra is the largest but least colourful of a very attractive family.
kookaburras on park railing
A pair of Blue-winged Kookaburras – female (red-brown tail) and male (blue tail) in Ross River parkland