Friday, April 21, 2017

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree

Although we could not include Bruce the Moose in the Around The World From 80 Countries exhibition, we did include one taxidermy specimen-- the Australian laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae).  All I knew about this bird before beginning my research was that it was the subject of a song (a round written by Marion Sinclair in 1932):

          “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree

          Merry, merry king of the bush is he

          Laugh, kookaburra! Laugh, kookaburra!

          Gay your life must be”

To write the exhibit label, I had to learn more and found that there are many interesting things about this bird-- too many to fit on the label.  So here are some of the things I've learned about the kookaburra. 

·       Kookaburras do live in gum trees, which is another name for a eucalyptus tree.

·       At dawn and dusk, kookaburra begin territorial calls with a low chuckle or “oo” sound which escalates into a rapid repetition of what sounds like “ha, ha, ha.”  One bird starts, the others join in, creating quite a racket. If you want to hear a kookaburra laugh, go to

·       Aboriginal legend says that “the chorus of laughter every morning is a signal for the sky people to light the great fire that illuminates and warms the earth by day.”

·       In New South Wales, kookaburras were originally called laughing jackasses.

·       Kookaburras typically hatch 1 to 5 young per year.  They stay with their parents for 1 to 3 years to help incubate the eggs, feed the chicks and defend the family's territory.

·       Kookaburras eat snakes.  To kill a snake, the kookaburra grasps it by the head and smacks it on the ground.

·       Kookaburras spend a lot of their time on the ground searching for food.  They are easily frightened.  Instead of trying to fly away, they open their beaks as wide as possible and remain motionless.
Eagles prey on kookaburras.  When they sight an eagle, all the kookaburras stop and point their beaks skyward. They move as a unit to follow the path of the eagle hoping to fool it into thinking they are merely brown branches.

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree.

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon


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