Big Voices of the Bush
On the morning of 27 August 1883, people on the island of Rodrigues in the western Indian Ocean thought they heard cannon-fire from ships moored just offshore. At the same time, the citizens of Perth were confused by a distant booming sound. They would all soon discover that the noise had been caused by Krakatoa, a volcano thousands of kilometres away in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra. The eruption of Krakatoa (Krakatau) was — and remains — the loudest sound ever heard by humans in the modern era.
But the volume of Krakatoa is nothing compared to the call of the Laughing Kookaburra. Native to eastern Australia, this giant kingfisher is so loud that it can be heard 14,000 kilometres away in the South American rainforest. Here it is on the soundtrack of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
It has been heard even further away — in Dracula’s territory of Romania. It is a noisy bird.
Less well-known but equally loud is Australia’s second* species of kookaburra — the Blue-winged Kookaburra. It occurs across northern Australia from Carnarvon in the west to Brisbane in the east, and is also found in New Guinea**. It differs from the Laughing Kookaburra in the lack of a brown band on its face and by the extensive areas of iridescent blue on the wing and tail. And the call. This species doesn’t appear on movie soundtracks for some reason. I can’t think why.
I’m house-sitting at a property that backs onto eucalypt woodland. It’s the late part of the Dry Season and the days are getting longer and hotter. Red-tailed Black Cockatoos rendezvous in the gum trees, then fly off to the hills to feed. Their calls are like toy trumpets. But they are drowned out by the Blue-winged Kookaburras. Each morning they stake out the boundaries of their territory in cackles and barks. Their racket reminds us that we are on their property.
*Or first, if you actually are a Blue-winged Kookaburra
**Along with several other kookaburra species, including this bird — bulldozer hybrid.