Do kookaburras live in other parts of the world? Did the first kookaburras migrate to Australia from other parts of the world? Lets explore these questions.

Kookaburras are part of a very large family of birds called kingfishers, or Alcedinidae. They are very widely distributed on all continents, except Antarctica, and in every environment, except those with extreme cold or heat.

It is thought that kingfishers descended from Quasisyndactylus, a small bird with a long, flattened beak that lived some 40-48 million years ago in Europe. According to DNA analysis, kingfishers probably evolved in the northern hemisphere and spread throughout the world.

The difference between kingfishers and kookaburras is that the kookaburra is of the genera Dacelo, or Clytoceyx, and is known for their laugh-like call. Whereas the kingfisher is of the suborder Alcedines, typically having a large head, short tail and brilliant colouration, and feed mostly on fish.

The word kookaburra comes from the word guuguubarra in the language of the Wiradjuri people (from central New South Wales), where it relates to the laughing call the birds make.

There are only five species of kookaburras, two live in Australia, and three in New Guinea and some near-by islands. These species are:

  • The laughing kookaburra, dacelo novaeguineae. These are found all along the east coast, from the Eyre Peninsula to Cape York. as well as introduced populations in Perth, Tasmania, Flinders and Kangaroo Islands, and in New Zealand around Auckland. Threatened status: Least concern.
  • laughing kookaburra
  • The blue-winged kookaburra, dacelo leachii. These are found in the north, as far south as Broome on the west coast and Brisbane on the east coast. Threatened status: Least concern.
  • blue winged kookaburra

The distribution of both the above birds overlaps from Cape York to Brisbane, and for several hundred kilometres inland generally parallel with the coast.

  • The spangled kookaburra, Dacelo tyro. These live in southern New Guinea and the Aru Islands (a group of about ninety islands off the south coast of the Indonesian province of Papua). Threatened status: Least concern.
  • spangled kookaburra
  • The rufous-bellied kookaburra, dacelo gaudichaud.¬† These birds live in the forests¬† throughout the lowland of New Guinea, Aru Islands, Moluccas Islands, and the islands off the north west coast of the Indonesian province of Papua. Threatened status: Least concern.
  • shovel-billed kookaburra
  • The shovel-billed kookaburra, Clytoceyx rex. Although widespread throughout most of New Guinea, it is rarely seen. It has a heavy, short, and broad bill that is unique among the kingfishers. Threatened status: Least concern.
another shovel-billed kookaburra

Some have suggested that kookaburras also inhabit other parts of the world, outside Australia and New Guinea. As has been stated above, this is untrue. However, there are a few explanations as to why this belief has arisen.

  • The main reason is probably the visual similarity between kookaburras and other kingfishers and people confusing the two.
  • The call of the laughing kookaburra has been used in many movies to represent jungle or generic wild bird calls. Some of these movies include:
  • Tarzan and the Green Goddess(1938),
  •  The Wizard of Oz (1939),
  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948),
  • Swiss Family Robinson (1960),
  • Cape Fear (1962),
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981),
  • The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997),

From that, uninformed people may get the impression that kookaburras also live in Africa, Mexico, India, United States, Peru, etc.

Therefore it can be seen that kookaburras only naturally occur in Australia, and New Guinea and some of its adjacent islands. Despite visual similarities with other birds, they do not live outside this area.


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The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Shovel-billed Kookaburra,  , Retrieved 9 November 2021.

Information researched and contributed by Barry Ridding