Kookaburras are one of my favourite birds. They are uniquely Australian, with a call like an echoing human laugh. They are a delight to hear where ever you may be. I have fond memories of standing at the end of my driveway on Anzac Day (Veterans Day) last year when we were in the early days of the covid pandemic and hearing a Kookaburra call out at dawn. I thought that the sound was ‘truly Australian’ and it created a large lump in my throat.
The Facebook video shows an excellent example of their call, Click here to see it.
Kookaburras are terrestrial tree kingfishers and are native to Australia The name is a loanword from the aboriginal Wiradjuri Guuguubarra, language and is onomatopoeic of its call. They are found in habitats ranging from humid forest to arid savanna, as well as in suburban areas with tall trees or near running water. These birds are almost exclusively carnivorous, eating mice, snakes, insects, small reptiles, and the young of other birds. They are known to take goldfish from garden ponds. In areas where they are used to people, they will accept handouts and will take meat from barbecues. They have excellent eyesight and will perch patiently in a tree until they see some prey on which they will swoop quickly.
Today, Jill and I drove up into the hills near Melbourne for a barbecue and picnic lunch at Grants Picnic Ground at Kallista. It was a cloudy day but without rain. We found a vacant picnic table in one of the forest picnic grounds and settled in for a quiet and peaceful time. It wasn’t yet noon when we arrived, so we began with a cup of coffee. The sun was not yet over the ‘yard arm’ and too early for anything stronger. Jill stomped her feet a lot complaining that there were a squadron of mosquitos attacking her but when I looked, I could see just one small insect on her instep. Yet, it reminded me to include some insect repellant in our picnic basket.
We began cooking some hamburgers on our portable barbecue and as soon as the smell of cooking was beginning to waft through the air, we noticed a kookaburra come and perch in a nearby tree. It was now time for a glass of wine so I poured out a glass of our superbly chilled white wine that had clearly grown on the sunny side of the hill and continued cooking. I had noticed the kookaburra but it didn’t seem too interest in us – in fact it was looking the other way.
Once the meat was cooked, we assembled our hamburgers and chatted as we ate. I was really enjoying being in the outdoors once again. About half way through, I stopped eating and held my hamburger in front of my face so that I could take a sip of wine. All of a sudden, there was a whoosh of air in front of my face and a brush of feathers against my nose. That mongrel of a bird had snatched the hamburger right out of my hand and flown away with it in its mouth.
The kookaburra had been lying doggo all the time – watching for a moment of opportunity and then taking advantage of it. It dropped some of the bun on the ground and then, in and instant, three of its mates appeared and had a squabble over the spoils.
There were signs on very picnic table telling people not to feed the birds. Maybe they should teach the birds to read as well!
The moral of this story is not to have sip of wine near kookburras as they will take advantage of your pause in eating to steal your food!
After lunch, we drove around the back of the hills towards the town of Healesville. There is a little weir near another picnic area at Donolleys Weir. It is quite scenic and, although small, it was a very early part of Melbourne’s water supply in the 1850s. Not withstanding the kookaburras, I think we actually picked a good place for our lunch as this picnic area was very crowded. We had to ford a creek to get there and the road was quite weathered after all our recent heavy rain.
On the way home we passed through some of the wine growing regions in the Yarra Vally on the outskirts of Melbourne. Most of the ripening vines were covered in bird nets to protect their crop from marauding birds. The nets created an appearance of a layer of frosted white across the entire area.