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Kookaburras clay and strange behaviour

Kookaburras excavating clay

Kookaburras excavating clay

September to November is the time when crows in our area develop the Messerschmitt twitch as nesting Kookaburras straff them relentlessly with loud screeching dives. Well screeching is a mild way of describing it as the noise is something that only a Kookaburra at full voice can produce.

The crows sit in the trees with their heads in constant motion looking for the enemy and emitting a strangled series of arcs in fear as they take off with the screeching Kookaburra in hot pursuit. This is quite a racket when it is close to the house.

Kookaburras in nesting time hang about in family groups made up of the adults and children from last year’s breeding season. The children assit the parents in raising the new brood of chicks. In our area the kookaburras tend to have 2 children each year and there are several sets in the general area each with its own closely guarded territory. The result is a concentration of Kookaburras with attitude during breeding time. Consequently our area resounds with the screech of straffing kookaburras and the panicked “arcs” of crows.

So between the Kookaburras and Channel Bill Cuckoos September to November is not a crow’s favourite time of year. However if the poor crow is unlucky enough to score a cuckoo chick then this period of confusion extends to February the next year.

It is also the time when we noticed Kookaburras indulging in clay pecking behaviour. At first we thought it was part of their usual “perch and pounce” behaviour when they persit in pursuing prey retreating underground.

Then we noticed they were bathing in a clay pond after rain and pecking at the clay at the same time. They quickly became a be-draggled mess. Having been drawn to this behaviour we saw it repeated throughout the breeding season and noticed numerous other excavation holes in clay banks. It is clear that material had been removed from the holes not just displaced. This behaviour continued until the young had fledged. After that and throughout the rest of the year the clay is ignored.

Clay bank excavated by Kookaburras

Clay bank excavated by Kookaburras

Feeding on clay from clay banks has been recorded for parrots in the Amazon. Macaws and other parrots visit clay banks throughtout the year but this behaviour reaches its peak during nesting (after the eggs have hatched). Samples from chick crops revealed a high percentage of clay fed to them by their parents. The thinking is that this supplies vital minerals for the chicks and in adults the minerals neutralise toxins in the seeds they eat.

We have noticed this clay pecking behaviour in Kookaburras for three years in a row now.  The fact that it occurs only during the breeding season when there are chicks on the nest suggests that they are also feeding it to their chicks. Interesting.

2 comments to Kookaburras clay and strange behaviour

  • Rex Bunn

    Hi, we have a family coming by to feed and recently noted one parent banging a large (2sq.”) piece of concrete roof tile on the pavers. This sent on for some minutes around the back garden, with the bird wandering around with the stone in its beak. This has happened several times this breeding season. i wonder if the bird thinks it’s a piece of gray clay?

    • Ted

      Hi Rex
      We have noted this behaviour as well. Adults with sticks or stones in their beaks and hitting them against branches etc. As you mention this can go on for some time. We don’t know the significance of this behaviour.

      In the mean time enjoy the family – the noise of the young ones learning to call is terrific entertainment.
      Regards ted

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