Patrick Dunn is the co-owner of Ave Azul de la Osa, located in Aguas Buenas, Osa. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Related to rollers and bee-eaters, kookaburras are stocky little hunters and are the largest of the world’s kingfisher species. They are among the 93 species that comprise the family Alcedinidae in the order Coraciformes. That notwithstanding one species, the Collared Kingfisher (Todirhamphus chlorine) has some 49 subspecies alone. Known in Costa Rica as the martin pescador, their close relative, the paradise kingfishers (Tanysiptera) are some of the most striking birds in the world.
Being about the size of a crow and weighing 345 – 480 grams, these adept hunters of two species, the Blue-winged (Dacelo leachii) and the Laughing Kookaburra (D. novaeguineae) occur naturally in Australia and the laughing through introduction from 1889 to 1905 in Tasmania and New Zealand. By 1930 it was firmly established on Tasmania but only survives in New Zealand along the west coast of the north isle in the Hauraki Gulf. The two other species of the genus Dacelo, the Rufous-bellied (D. gaudichaud) and the Spangled (D. tyro) both occur only on the island of New Guinea.
The laugh made famous by many a Hollywood movie is, in fact, the territorial song delivered by two to five family birds—but as many as twenty—at once, known as a “gang.”
Kookaburras pair for life and can live up to 20 years or more. We aviculturalists now know this to be a fact because I have had a breeding
pair here at Ave Azul since their birth in 1995. Previous research indicates a life span in the wild of only 10 to 12 years. Their diet consists entirely of live food in the form of a variety of large insects and some reptiles. But birds and their eggs, frogs, and mice are also on the menu, as are some very venomous Australian snakes such as the taipan and brown snake. At Ave Azul our birds have caught terciopelos in their aviary, knocking them senseless before severing the heads to swallow the bodies whole. They typically deposit two—but have been known to deposit up to five eggs in a hollowed-out tree or even a fence post, and can be very aggressive with no problem challenging their keeper if approached too closely during this time. Family (gang members) stay close to one another for years, and all care for every new brood coming up.
Unfortunately, the world appears destined to lose about a dozen or more species of kingfishers, mostly island species, within the next 20 to 30 years. But kingfishers are easy to save by conserving their habitats and through captive breeding. Indeed, several species from islands have already been established in captivity and occur in greater numbers in captive groups than in the whole of their wild native habitat. One species, the Guam Kingfisher (Todirhamphus cinnamominus) is in fact extinct on Guam itself as a result of the accidental introduction of the Philippine brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) but the birds in captivity are numerous and await re-introduction as soon as the island is eradicated and free of the alien predator.
Here at Ave Azul de la Osa we have a gang of six Laughing Kookaburras devoted to a captive breeding program. Their seemingly demented and maniacal little laughs can be heard every morning at 5:00 a.m. sharp when the entire gang seems to detonate simultaneously in a cacophony of laughter.