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A laughing kookaburra, or Dacelo novaeguineae, is a beige-colored bird found in forests, woodlands and urban areas in parts of Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand. It belongs to the Halcyonidae family of kingfishers, although its diet consists mainly of small rodents, reptiles and amphibians rather than fish. The most distinguishing feature of these birds is the loud "chuckling" calls they make twice a day. Kookaburras also differ from many other birds in that older siblings help care for chicks before leaving the nest.
The original range of the laughing kookaburra extended throughout eastern and southern Australia. They were introduced to southwestern Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania in the early 1900s. Kookaburras have flourished due to their ability to adapt to changing environments. Although they're primarily found in eucalyptus forests and dry woodlands, some have made their homes in city and town parks and backyards.
With an average length ranging between 15 and 18 inches (39 to 45 cm), the laughing kookaburra is the biggest species of kingfisher. They typically weigh between 13 and 16 ounces (368 to 455 grams), with females being larger than males. Kookaburras have a stocky appearance, with short necks and large heads. Unlike their brightly colored kingfisher relatives, they have beige or light brown backs and wings, white heads, a brown stripe around each eye, gray chests and brownish-red tails. Males also have pale blue spots on their wings.
The laughing kookaburra makes a series of raucous calls that resemble laughter every morning and evening, which has earned it the nickname "bushman's alarm clock." These calls, which have been recorded and used as jungle sound effects in several films, are the birds' way of announcing their territory. They also use simpler calls for courting, locating others, asking for food and alerting others to nearby predators.
Lizards, frogs, snakes, rodents, smaller birds and large insects make up the bulk of the laughing kookaburra's diet, although it also eats fish if other food is scarce. The birds dive down to catch their prey in their 4-inch (10 cm) beaks, then they hit it repeatedly on a branch or let it fall to the ground. This makes it easier for the kookaburras to swallow their food whole.
Mating occurs in October, which is early spring in the southern hemisphere. A dominant female lays two or three eggs in empty termite mounds or hollowed tree trunks, while "helper" females lay additional ones in the same nesting area. Once the eggs hatch in about 29 days, the entire family works together to raise the chicks. Kookaburras generally live to be 11 years old in the wild and up to 15 years old in captivity.