K is for Kookaburra, aka the Laughing Jackass

Kookaburras, Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, Galas, Whip Birds, Butcher Birds, Magpies (the list seems endless):  the Australian bush is filled with the loud, raucous, joyous sounds of birds.   It’s the only thing I’ve ever missed, and so of course, “K” must be for Kookaburra.  Rather than present it’s genus and other biological  credentials, I’d like to let my father tell you a about his first encounter with our iconic bird.

Papa arrived in Sydney on the Thursday before Easter, 1924, the remains of the Five Pounds his grandmother had given him as travelling money jingling in his pocket, and a precious envelope with a further Twenty Five, “to be banked”.  As it turned out, his arrival wasn’t as anticipated, and instead of being met by his sponsor, the friendly farmer from Coonabarabran, he was thrust on the mercy of the Department of  Immigration.

Times were different, back then.  Instead of being handcuffed and led off to the nearest Detention Centre, young Nevis spent Easter with the Woods, at their home over near Manly.

His encounter with the infamous Laughing Jackass, that weekend, was the first of many faux pas the sixteen year old with the big hands was to make before somehow he became an Aussie, and is a story he loved telling against himself.   But let him tell it in his own words:

“We swam every morning, except for Sunday, when we went to church.  I was shown the Botanic Gardens, and on one afternoon went to the zoo, where I was to see the famous Australian ‘Laughing Jackass’.  Well, I heard the wretched thing laughing alright, but when the family tried to point the creature out to me, I just couldn’t spot it – until Mr. Woods laughingly explained it was a bird.  And here I was, looking for a beast with two large ears and four legs! ”

"... and I was looking for a beast with two large ears and four legs!'

This fellow used to visit us frequently ,once the drought set in.   Competition for food was fierce and the lush, sub-tropical gardens of the Sunshine Coast hinterland played host to a myriad of prey animals for a hungry Kookaburra and his family.  He would sit atop this stump, still, barely moving an eyeball, watching for frogs, and lizards within the understory of the garden.  But that’s not all – seems we also had a steady supply of snakes for this vigilant bird.

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61 thoughts on “K is for Kookaburra, aka the Laughing Jackass

  1. These photographs are fantastic! This reminds me of a camp song I used to sing, which you probably know, “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree/Merry, merry king of the bush is he/Laugh, Kookaburra! Laugh Kookaburra!/Gay your life must be!

    • Mischief – downright wickedness! I had toyed with adding a sound bite to the post, but the thought of having to master another piece of internet-tech daunted me too much. Anyway, we all know, right!

  2. Here in the US, I learned the Kookaburra song in grade school, along with Waltzing Matilda. I remember them being in our “song book,” maybe in 3rd grade? (That’s about 8 years old for those of you with different school systems.) So the bird is known across the world!

  3. Wow… he remind me of a bird on my beach. the Kingfisher. Wonder if they are the same family. I will have to go research that. Guess I will have to write about them on my blog so you can see how close they are.

    Plus I do love the family memories. That makes it so special. r

  4. I posted the picture of the Kingfisher so you can see what he looks like. I live in Seattle so you can tell we share the same species. they are so simliar & in Wiki it says you have the Aussie Kingfisher. We are all connected!!!


    • What a fluffy head he has! Yes, they’re the same family – a very widespread family, too. We have kingfishers here, in Sri Lankia – the most violent turquoise and wings and black body – fantastic. Quite a bit smaller than our Kookaburra. How big is your Seattle Kingfisher?

    • Madhu, you too? In what context? I’m going to have to do some research into Kookaburra Sits … I keep thinking it must be someone like Gould – the bird man – he had something to do with The Guides, didn’t he?

      • Google tells me Marion Sinclair wrote the song and sold the rights to the girl guide foundation in 1934! Just a matter of time before it spread across the ‘commonwealth’ I guess

        • Ahha – so it wasn’t Mr. Gould the bird man after all. How extraordinary to think of Marion selling the rights to her little song all those years ago – and here we are, so many of us having sung it (in rounds, somebody- Robin, I think – reminded me) all across the world. Viv in post-war London, Lynne around a campfire in Canada, and you in India. I like that romantic old fashioned picture.

  5. I totally “get” why your Papa was confused… the family joke is on me here… when I first visited The Netherlands on a summer holiday (long before I moved here) I stayed with an aunt who had a holiday house near some forest.
    We went walking and there were cries from family of “oooh look at the squirrels!” and everyone could see them everywhere …except me….
    … but I’d never seen a squirrel before so was desperately looking for a creature the size of a cat, never thinking that red squirrels are more the size of the mouse LOL.
    Having only seen pictures, I just assumed that squirrels were huge animals !

    • So glad somebody ‘got it’ kiwidutch – nobody else has:(
      Thanks for sharing our ‘jokes on me’ story. I can get that too. It’s always happening to me – especially here where so many things were/still are strange to me!

  6. Beautiful little bird (I’m sure the snake didn’t think so) sitting on a really cool perch. I’ve never seen tree bark like that … What kind of a tree is that? Is it native to Australia as well? I am very curious. 🙂 Great share, by the way.

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