An emblematic bird of Australasia, kookaburras are perhaps known best for their incredible vocalisations. Kookaburras are closely related to kingfishers and are part of the same family Alcedinidae.
There are four species of Kookaburra in the genus Dacelo; the Laughing kookaburra, Blue-winged kookaburra, Rufous kookaburra and Spangled kookaburra. Another, the Shovel-billed kookaburra, sits within its own genus Clytoceyx. Here we’ll be answering the question in detail; what do kookaburras eat?
Kookaburras eat almost solely vertebrates and invertebrates, ranging from venomous snakes and amphibians to small insects and earthworms. But, like kingfishers, some kookaburras also hunt fish. Kookaburras perch at the height of around 1 to 10m and intently scan the area for prey before swooping down. They’re also observed digging for prey in the ground, especially in the case of the Shovel-billed kookaburra.
All species of kookaburras inhabit food-dense forests and rainforests, and likely have no trouble meeting their daily dietary demands!
But, of course, there is much more to learn about the diets and feeding habits of this unique and symbolic bird - read on to find out!
A Laughing Kookaburra feeding on a worm
The five species of kookaburra all have relatively similar diets. These birds eat mainly arthropods, invertebrates and vertebrates. They’re considered carnivorous, as plant foods make up practically 0% of their diets.
Kookaburra diets are diverse, ranging from larger lizards, frogs and even venomous snakes to ants, termites and grasshoppers.
Laughing kookaburras are the largest kookaburras and have the most diverse diet, consuming all manner of small vertebrates ranging from mice to frogs, snakes and birds.
However, the majority of their diet consists of invertebrates such as beetles, ants, earwigs, centipedes, millipedes, caterpillars, moths and flies of various kinds. With that said, one study in Melbourne found that the Laughing kookaburra’s diet consisted of some 35% snakes and lizards.
Some of the favourite invertebrate prey of kookaburras include grasshoppers, beetles, ants, earwigs, moths, earthworms, cicada, flies, millipedes, spiders, stick insects and centipedes. In terms of vertebrates, kookaburras eat lizards, snakes, mice, rats, birds, nestlings and frogs.
Kookaburras also eat fish, catching them in a similar fashion to a kingfisher, and hunt and kill crustaceans such as crabs and crayfish by smashing them apart on rocks.
Studies of kookaburras generally find they consume more invertebrates than vertebrates; a study of the Blue-winged kookaburra found they consume 59% invertebrates and 41% vertebrates, for example.
Perched Kookaburra with a large caterpillar
The largest kookaburra, the Laughing kookaburra, has the most diverse diet of all kookaburras. These powerful birds are often spotted catching snakes and reptiles longer than themselves, then bludgeoning them to death on a rock or tree before dismembering them into smaller chunks to eat.
The kookaburras of Papua New Guinea (Shovel-billed, Rufous-bellied and Spangled kookaburras) have a more insect-driven diet.
Kookaburras often find food by perching on a branch or human-made construction at a height of around 1 to 10m, scanning the floor for prey before swooping in to catch it. They also forage from the tree canopy, especially in the case of the smaller kookaburras of Papua New Guinea.
Kookaburras are sometimes observed digging in the ground while searching for ants, earthworms, earwigs and other terrestrial prey.
The Shovel-billed kookaburra is excellent at digging - they’re often observed routinely ‘ploughing’ specific areas to hunt for earthworms and other buried prey.
Like kingfishers, kookaburras catch aquatic prey like fish and amphibians. They’re capable of catching fish from just below the water's surface, but deeper dives have been observed - though not as impressive as other kingfishers.
Kookaburras also raid the nests of other birds in pursuit of nestlings, especially in the breeding season.
Perched Kookaburra waiting patiently for prey
Kookaburras are diurnal birds that roost for approximately 12-hours a day. They feed throughout much of the day, from daybreak to sunset.
Since kookaburras rely primarily on their vision to sight prey on the ground or in the tree canopy, they only hunt during good light conditions.
The kookaburra’s winter diet will hardly differ from its standard diet. These are flexible, adaptable hunters that will eat most valid prey items in their habitats.
Winter in most parts of Australia is mild, if practically non-existent. June and July are the coldest months, with the temperature rarely dropping to 5-degrees celsius. Frosts are possible in isolated areas. In Papua New Guinea, winter temperatures rarely drop below 20-degree celsius!
Kookaburra eating a fish whilst perched on a branch
In summer, the kookaburra’s diet is practically the same as their standard diet. Any valid prey items in their habitat will be readily hunted and consumed.
In much of Australia and Papua New Guinea, summer is roasting, with daytime temperatures regularly reaching 40-degrees celsius. As a result, Kookaburras will often shelter from the heat, confining themselves to the cool shade of their forest habitats.
Baby kookaburras are primarily fed with soft invertebrates and insects. Typical food items include earthworms, crickets, grasshoppers, cicadas and beetles. Both parents feed the chicks, and are sometimes assisted by nest helpers.
Kookaburras live in family groups of around six birds, including last year’s young. These helpers help incubate and feed the chicks.
Kookaburra feeding on a swamp snake
Kookaburras feed upon practically any meat scraps, including strips of beef, chicken and pork. They’ll also eat mealworms, preferably live ones.
Mice are often fed to captive or rescued kookaburras alongside mealworms and a specially-prepared feed. Kookaburras may also eat fruits and seeds if offered on a bird table or on the ground, but this isn’t their preferred food.
Kookaburras are much too large to visit back garden bird feeders, and therefore never frequent them.
However, they will swoop in to take meat scraps from bird tables. Overall, kookaburras prefer to take food from the ground. If you want to feed kookaburras, then offer them meat scraps scattered across the lawn.
A pair of Kookaburras being fed in the yard
Kookaburras are adaptable, aggressive hunters, but their primary and preferred method to take prey is from the ground.
Some of the smaller Papua New Guinean kookaburras also hunt from the tree canopy and are observed fluttering between branches while collecting large insects.
Kookaburras are rarely seen drinking as they get much of their dietary water from their food.
Kookaburra having a drink of water
Since they consume no vegetable or plant-based foods, kookaburras are considered carnivores. Their diets consist almost solely of invertebrates and vertebrates.
In captivity, kookaburras are often fed with fruits, seeds and other non-meat foods.
Kookaburras are straightforward to attract with mealworms and meat scraps. They prefer to feed directly from the ground, so you don’t need a bird table or feeder to attract them.
Kookaburras are also pretty fearless of humans and will feed from the hand - but be aware that they might mistake your finger for a juicy earthworm!
Kookaburra sat on a perch at the beach
Kookaburras won’t eat chicken in their native habitat - unless they opportunistically prey on a baby chicken. They will take chicken scraps from garden bird tables, however.
Kookaburras are excellent at hunting snakes and have been observed killing and eating snakes of some 1 metre in length! These birds kill snakes by bludgeoning them to death, and then dismembering them into small pieces before eating them.
Kookaburras eat other birds and their nestlings, but this isn’t particularly common. Overall, kookaburras are opportunistic predators who eat practically anything they can get their sharp beaks.
Laughing Kookaburra in flight
The song “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gumdrop Tree” refers to how these birds use gumdrop trees as a perch. They don’t actually eat the gumdrop seed pods, however. Kookaburras are carnivorous hunters.
Kookaburras are also known as “terrestrial kingfishers” and are part of the same family as kingfishers, which are excellent at fishing. Kookaburras do catch and eat fish and crustaceans and have been observed diving slightly under the water's surface to do so. They don’t possess the same fishing prowess as many kingfishers, however.
Kookaburras are considered carnivorous, so they only eat meat. Kookaburras eat meat in the form of vertebrates such as lizards, snakes, rodents, birds and other mammals, as well as invertebrates, in the form of flies, crickets, worms, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, beetles, etc.
Kookaburra eating a ghost crab
Captive kookaburras can develop a taste for fruit and may eat bananas. However, in the wild, kookaburras are considered carnivorous.
Kookaburras hunt and kill frogs and other amphibians. They’re opportunistic, aggressive hunters.
While wild kookaburras are carnivorous, captive kookaburras do reportedly eat birdseed.
Wild kookaburras won’t eat bread, and shouldn’t be tempted to. In fact, bread isn’t particularly suitable for any bird.
Kookaburras love to eat mice and other small mammals. They eat mice both in the wild and in captivity.
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