Skip to Main Content
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance logo
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library logo

Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae)

Physical Characteristics

Body measurements

Attribute Males Females
Body Weight 196-450 g (6.91-16 oz) 190-465 g (6.7-16.4 oz)
Body Length (head + tail) 41-45 cm (16-18 in)


Weight data from Woodall (2001).
Body length data from Myers (1996).

General Appearance

  • D. n. novaeguineae is the largest kingfisher in the world
    • Dagger-like bill, short legs, and a stout body
  • D. n. minor is slightly smaller

Sexual Dimorphism

  • Female slightly larger than male with less blue on rump feathers (Woodall 2001)

Other Physical Characteristics of Kookaburras

  • Plumage comparison for several kookaburra species (Fry et al. 1992; Woodall 2001)
    • D. novaeguineae - Laughing Kookaburra
      • White head and chest
      • Dark crown and eyeband
      • Blue spots on wing coverts
      • Rufous (reddish-brown) tail banded in black
    • D. leachii - Blue-winged Kookaburra
      • White head, but no dark eyepatch
      • Blue on male's rump much more conspicuous than in D. n. novaeguineae 
      • Female's upper tail coverts rufous, barred with black; male's tail coverts are blue
      • Bill is longer and more conical than in D. n. novaeguineae 
    • D. tyro - Spangled Kookaburra
      • Smaller than either laughing or blue-winged species
      • Head and hindneck yellow-buff with black margins on feathers
      • Belly buff to pale orange
      • Rump and upper tail coverts bight cobalt blue
    • D. gaudichaud - Rufous-bellied Kookaburra
      • Black cap and back
      • White bill
      • Blue wings, rump
      • Rufous belly
      • Blue tail - male; rufous tail - female
    • Adaptations that help conserve energy for this sedentary, "sit-and wait" predator (Buttemer et al. 2003):
      • Thick feathers provide 24% better insulation than seen in other birds of a similar size
      • Metabolism and body temperature lowered significantly during nighttime resting
    • Kookaburras moult over a 90-120 day period (Parry 1970)
  • Feet (Eastman 1970):
    • Three toes point forward; one toe points backward
      • Kingfishers' forward-facing toes are joined from the base for one-third their length. This fusion of joints is called "syndactyly".
    • Middle toe is the longest (Higgins 1999)
  • Skull (Parry 1970)
    • Have prominent bony ridge on back of skull where strong neck muscles attach
      • Strength is required when bashing and killing prey
  • Bill
    • Long and heavy, about same length as head (Higgins 1999)
    • Hooked bill of very young juvenile used in attacking nestmates (Woodall 2001)
  • Eyes (Moroney & Pettigrew 1987)
    • Superb vision for detecting prey from above
    • Visual field is composed of two areas rich in receptors (fovea):
      • Within a single eye, vision is sharpened by monocular fovea
      • By rotating the head, a second area of receptors in each eye can be used together for binocular vision to detect movement and position
        • Falcons use similar head-tracking movements
        • Other predatory birds such as eagles and kites track prey more often with their eyes rather than head turning

Laughing Kookaburra

Laughing kookaburra on a branch

The Laughing Kookaburra has a distinctive dark eye band.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Buttermer et al. (2003)
Eastman (1970)
Fry et al. (1992)
Higgins (1999)
Moroney & Pettigrew (1987)
Myers (1996)
Parry (1970)
Woodall (2001)

SDZWA Library Links