Since the kookaburra is diurnal, I wondered why it was calling as the sky darkened. Apparently, I’m not alone. People have speculated about why kookaburras laugh. Some think they announce the day’s first and last light or that their laughter at night signifies coming rain. Scientists have a more prosaic explanation: their cackle is actually a warning to other birds to stay away from their territory.
A long time ago, Australia’s indigenous peoples would have disagreed. The bird sparked their imagination and appeared in creation myths. According to one story, “the Great Spirit Biami created the first Kookaburra to call out when the sun rose each morning to awaken the people and day creatures. He did this with a loud, ringing laugh so the people and creatures awoke with gladness in their hearts.”
The kookaburra caught the imagination of poets as well. Douglas Stewart, in his 1962 poem “Kookaburras,” agrees that the birds “are waking the world.”
Today the kookaburra is an Australian icon, admired for its bold confidence. It is the bird emblem for New South Wales, and Australians chose the bird as the mascot for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. Additionally, the nickname for the Australia men’s national field hockey team is the “kookaburras.”
This unusual Australian icon has caught my imagination too. Whether they're waking the world or just warning off other birds, I don’t care why kookaburras call—I’m just happy to hear their laughter.