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Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) Fact Sheet: Reproduction & Development

Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae)


Mating system

  • Monogamous, cooperative breeding
  • Mating system and breeding biology of kookaburras was described in detail by Parry (1968,1970,1973) and by Legge (2000a,b,c,2004)
    • Parry used color banding to aid in the recognition of individuals and their social roles
    • Legge determined parentage of chicks by collecing and analyzing DNA
  • Mated pair lives in a group with up to 6 helpers that are offspring from previous seasons (Legge 2004)
  • Having more helpers does not improve nesting success; success varies, depending on helpers' sex (Legge 2004)
    • The presence of additional male helpers has neither a positive nor negative effect on fledgling success and fledgling weight
    • Having additional female helpers has a negative impact on nesting success - perhaps because females aren't dependable incubators or provisioners
  • Cooperative breeding exhibited by many Australian birds, including (Ford 1985):
    • Treecreepers (Family Climacteridae)
    • Bell miners (Manorina melanophrys)
    • Yellow robins (Eopsaltria spp.)
    • Striated pardalotes (Pardalotus striatus)
    • Fairy-wrens (Family Maluirdae)
    • Choughs (Corax melanorpamphos)
    • Babblers (Pomatostomus spp.)

Courtship (Legge 2004)

  • A male-female pair remains together for many years, usually until one dies
  • Before breeding season begins, a group becomes more noisy and active
    • Intruders are vigorously chased away
    • Group members fight more and are also more attentive to each other
    • The dominant male and female stay close to each other; calling frequently
      • Courtship displays and mate guarding may begin 6 weeks before egg laying (Higgins 1999)
  • Courtship involves three elements (Myers 1996):
    • Courtship feeding; male brings food to female
      • Other group members may also bring food (Legge 2004)
    • Time spent visiting the nest in a tree hollow
    • Copulation



  • Parents engage in ritual tree-hollow inspecting (Legge 2004)
    • Height of chosen nest above ground varies greatly, from 20 cm (7.9 in) to 60 m (196.9 ft)
    • Parents make little attempt to prepare the hollow for nesting
  • Nest may sometimes be made in a termite nest in a tree (Fry et al. 1992)
  • Only one nesting attempt per season (Legge 2000a)
  • Tree hollow nest may be used for many years (Fry et al. 1992)

Egg Laying and Incubation

(Legge 2000a,b,c 2004)

  • Eggs laid in Australian spring (September-December)
  • Female usually lays three eggs and sometimes two; rarely one or as many as five (Parry 1970)
  • Eggs rounded to elliptical, smooth, luminous white (Foreshaw & Cooper 1983)
  • Usually 1-2 days between laying of each egg; up to 4 days between
  • Female incubates eggs at night; male and other helpers assist in daytime
  • All members of the group (parents plus helpers) develop a brood patch on the belly
    • This area of unfeathered skin that is rich in blood vessels helps keep eggs warm
  • Eggs begin to develop only when reaching a critical temperature after the female begins sitting on them (incubating):
    • If she begins after all eggs are laid, then nestlings hatch at about the same time
      • This results in a hyper-competitive situation and increases the likeliness of siblicide
    • If she starts incubating immediately upon laying the first egg, then that chick will hatch sooner than the others (decreasing the likeliness of siblicide)
  • The dominant male incubates eggs the most often; the dominant female the next most often; female helpers the least

Life Stages

Nestlings (Legge 2004)

  • Nestling break out of eggs using conical egg tooth on top of their bill
  • Third hatchlings rarely survive; severe aggression by other two chicks results in a 50% survival rate of the third-born chick
  • Pin feather stubs visible under skin at 4 days; emerge 7-11 days (Parry 1970)
  • Eyes fully open by day 10 (Higgins 1999)
  • Food is delivered to nestlings whole (often tenderized by bashing on ground or against tree or rock)
  • Parents plus all helpers forage for food for the chicks; with each additional helper, each helper reduces its provsioning efforts (Legge 2000c)


  • Kookaburra keep stubby pin feathers until nearly the time of fledging (Legge 2004)
    • This is a trait of all members of the order Coraciiformes (bee-eaters, rollers, hornbills, kingfishers)
    • Trait perhaps serves to keep feathers from becoming frayed and soiled while young live in a confined tree hollow
      • Adults don't remove feces from hollow; older birds attempt to aim feces out the opening but often miss (Woodall 2001)
  • Feathers of the head region open through the shafts around day 32 (Smith 1976)
  • Fledging at 33-39 days (Parry 1970)
    • After this relatively long nesting period, young can fly well when they leave the tree hole nest (Parry 1970)
  • One, occasionally two, chicks are fledged (Legge 2004)
  • Begin to laugh at 6 weeks; perfect the laugh by 3 months (Woodall 2001)
  • Young are typically darker on chest than adults


  •  Sexual maturity at 1 year; most delay breeding for several years (Woodall 2001)


In the wild

  • 12.5 years (Legge 2004)
  • 15 years (Higgins 1999)

Mortality and Health

  • Predation on nests is rare, probably because they are located in tree hollows (Emlen & Wrenge 1991)
  • Occasionally quolls, goannas, and olive pythons prey upon chicks (Legge 2004)
  • Whistling kites (Haliastur sphenurus) and goshawks prey on adult kookaburra (Hobbs 1966)
  • Greater gliders (Petauroides volans), possums, cats, foxes, butchers birds (Cracticus sp.), brush-tailed phascogales (a type of carnivorous marsupial) were all suspected by Parry (1970) of preying on kookaburras

Page Citations

Eastman (1970)
Emlen & Wrenge (1991)
Ford (1985)
Foreshaw & Cooper (1983)
Fry et al. (1992)
Hobbs (1966)
Legge (2000abc, 2004)
Myers (1996)
Parry (1968, 1970,1973)
Smith (1976)
Woodall (2001)

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