What’s So Funny?

Many bird species have been known for their ability to mimic sounds of humans, but there is one bird species whose call has not been influenced by humans, but eerily sounds like something we do – laugh. But no matter how hilarious their call is, the laughing kookaburra means serious business.

Native to Australia, New Guinea and parts of New Zealand, the laughing kookaburra is one of four kookaburra species, all of which belong to a much larger family of kingfishers. Kingfishers are identified by their short, stocky body, unique colorations and markings, and long, thick bills. These birds earned their name from what they eat – fish, however they often will eat more insects, amphibians, and reptiles; kookaburras are notorious for killing snakes, even venomous ones!

Kookaburras are known as the king of kingfishers, not because of their excellent fishing skills, but because they are the largest species. They can grow up to 17 inches tall and weigh over one pound. The males and females look similar, however females are slightly larger and have less colorful feathers.

Unlike other kookaburra species that have vibrantly colored (often blue or green) feathers, laughing kookaburras look rather plain, with a light beige or white head and breast with brown wings and back. Both males and females have pale blue feathers on their wings and tails, and males typically have more pale blue feathers on their wings.

Kookaburras live in family groups, with a dominant breeding pair that is mated for life, and their grown kookaburra chicks that help raise future broods. At about age four, the helpers will leave the nest to begin courting with other laughing kookaburras.

The laughing kookaburra’s call sounds like a variety of trills, chortles, belly laughs and hoots. It starts and ends with a low chuckle and has a shrieking “laugh” in the middle. It uses it’s call to announce its territory, but also makes shorter, different calls for mating, alerting of potential threats and as a sign of aggression.

The Virginia Zoo recently acquired two laughing kookaburras, a male and a female, which can now be found on exhibit in the ZooFarm with the Kenya crested guinea fowl. The pair were brought together by the Association for Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan® as social companions.

The male, who Keepers have unofficially named Shrimp, was born on April 8, 2011 at the Denver Zoo. Keepers say he prefers enrichment items with food and often enjoys mealworms as a reward. Shrimp can be spotted sunning himself on perches in his exhibit, but is typically shy and will hide from new people.

Our female is unofficially named Barbie and was born on October 8, 2006 at the Dickerson Zoo in Springfield, Missouri. Keepers say Barbie enjoys training sessions with Keepers as enrichment and can often be seen taking baths in her free time. She enjoys the company of Shrimp and likes to feed him.

Shrimp and Barbie (it’s funny, right?) like to talk very loudly, often encouraging the guinea fowl to join in, as well as the Southern screamers who live across the ZooFarm. Keepers often say the kookaburras’ calling can lead to all the animals in the entire ZooFarm to join in to create their own symphony of sounds!

Once the Zoo reopens, we hope you make time on your next trip to visit the laughing kookaburras in the ZooFarm. Maybe you’ll catch Shrimp and Barbie in the middle of a joke and can laugh along with them!