Laughing Kookaburra

Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae)

These photos were taken at the Mount Elliot Lookout at Katandra Reserve, on the New South Wales Central Coast.

The Laughing Kookaburras (Dacelo novaeguineae) at this location will allow humans to approach to within 3 metres.

(click on the photos for a larger image)

The day was sunny and unusually warm (in excess of 25°C), I think, for early spring. The light breeze had no effect on camera stability.

I first saw the kookaburra as I was parking the car — it came swooping out of the branches of a tree, fossicked at the roots of another and pulled something out of a pile of leaves, perhaps a worm or a lizard. The bird then whacked its prey against the ground and swallowed it whole, and just as I got my gear ready (unpack camera, change lens) it flew away into the trees. I followed it to its perch (at ground level, obviously). The branch was about ten metres high.

Having a scratch

In this series of shots the light was coming from behind the bird, and getting the exposure right was not particularly easy.

And another

I’m generally reluctant to invite anyone to accompany me on a photography trip because it can be an awfully tedious affair if you don’t have a camera/are not interested in nature photography yourself. There’s the walking around, and the waiting. Lots of waiting. Your subject is not there to perform for you, so it’s up to you to be ready when it actually does something you consider interesting.

And yet another

If the light conditions are challenging you have to bracket your shots, which means even more waiting plus an element of luck, because the animal is not going to repeat the action for your benefit either.

With longer lenses you really have a problem with stability unless you use a tripod (I don’t) or can find something to brace yourself against.

The entire series of photos took about an hour to take. The scratching, however ecstatic an activity it might have been, didn’t happen continuously; there were long periods during which the bird was motionless.

In most of the scratching pictures you can see that the kooka’s nictitating membrane is drawn across its eyes.


I didn’t hear a kookaburra call the whole time I was at the reserve.


I walked around the tree to see if the light was better from that vantage. Yes it was, but the view was rather ordinary.

Rear view

An irresponsible person had dropped a half-finished box of fish and chips onto the ground some time earlier, and the kookaburra flew over to investigate. It was joined by a companion; perhaps its mate?

On the ground, with chips

We stab the prey with our beak

You really should see this “demon bird” photo at higher resolution. Brr. 🙂

And then we bash it on the ground

The kookaburra’s beak makes a distinct clack when it hits the ground. Note the deployment of the nictitating membrane as protection against flying debris.

Two kookas

Poised to fly

Having had its fill, one of the kookaburras flew to this perch but grew apprehensive when I approached too closely. When I backed off a tad it settled down again.

Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae)

The Laughing kookaburra is a large kingfisher with a terrestrial habit, i.e. it does not live or feed near large bodies of water as most other kingfishers do.

More reading:
New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage

The laughing kookaburra is the world’s largest kingfisher. It measures up to 46 cm from the tip of its beak to the tip of its tail.

Date: 18 September 2011
Camera: Pentax K-5
Lens 1: Pentax smc DA L 55-300 mm f/4-5.8 ED

Ambient light only.
Conditions: sunny.
Hand-held only.
Cropping and resizing in Irfanview.


One Response to Laughing Kookaburra

  1. […] Yet another tentacled thing, WordPress site (2011) Laughing kookaburra […]

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