Friday, October 1, 2010

Laugh, kookaburra, laugh!

The kookaburras are nesting again! This is jubilant news indeed for an area where snakes also breed. Kookaburras are actually a type of kingfisher and when you see the brilliant flash of blue on their wings and their profile in silhouette it's easy to see the family resemblance.

One quiet country evening I saw a kookaburra, romantically outlined by the setting sun on an old strainer post, gleefully thumping the life out of a young brown snake. Quite literally. It had the tail end in it's rather prominent bill and was swinging the snake hard against the post, time after time, to crack it's head and render it safe to eat. If you feed them, which you shouldn't do, strips of steak they will do the same thing. The steak has to be bashed to death before consumption. That bill can also crush mice and immobilise rats with a single snap, both of which I've witnessed. Needless to say with their family heritage they also eat fish and woe betide any goldfish you have in ponds or troughs without cover. They're sitting ducks. Or fish, rather. In barrels. So to speak.

Violent table manners aside, they're charming birds. They fly folded up like arrows, and although they're very shy around humans they fill the air some afternoons with their calls, exactly like that of raucous laughter. One kookaburra will call and just as the outburst is subsiding to a chuckle another will catch the mood and start chortling, then laughing outright on the other side of the valley. It's uplifting and infectious and it always makes me smile too.