Kookaburra Laugh

In ContactZone

By Emily Pfau


The sound of multiple Kookaburras

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Merry, merry king of the bush is he,
Laugh, kookaburra, laugh,
kookaburra, gay your life must be,
Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
eating all the gumdrops he can see,
stop kookaburra, stop
kookaburra, leave some there for me,

Marion Sinclair 

I could continue the verses but the important one that held more meaning for me than all the others is laugh, kookaburra, laugh, kookaburra.

This was a nursery rhyme I had memorized in my childhood. I do not remember why or how I memorized it, but I had, and at random times it would start playing in my head. At no time was this more relevant than when I lived in Australia. 

The Kookaburra is a bird native to Australia. They often come at dusk, sit in public areas and make a unique call unlike any bird one would hear in the United States. 

The Kookaburra did not have the small chirp of a Wren or sweet song of a Warbler. The bird started its song out slow. It then grew into a high pitched, cackling laugh that could bounce off the houses. When one bird started they all had to join in.

My room in Australia was small, on the second floor, white walls, two windows facing out on the front of the house where a lamppost stood right outside the gate. I hated that lamppost. It was tall and dark in colour, and the light that streamed from it was more orange than white. It spread right through my curtains and onto my bed. The light often lit up my room, but that did not bother me. No, it was not the lamppost itself I disliked, but what it aided: a kookaburra. 

Every night just when the sun was starting to set, this one kookaburra would fly out and perch its little white hind quarters on the lamppost. Fluff its brown wings open its wide beak and laugh. The noise penetrated my room.

At times I would look out my window and I swear it looked me dead in the eyes and laughed. 

The nursery rhyme from my childhood rang in my mind. But this time the kookaburra did not choose a gum tree. Instead it chose a well-lit lamppost like a stage with lighting. It could then laugh and laugh with glee. I wondered how to make it stop. I just wanted to sleep.

I had never really discussed this bird outside my window with anyone before. It never really came up. Kookaburras were quite normal to see. One day at school when I was with my friends the noisy bird came up in conversation. 

I shook my head and opened my mouth to voice my complaint. “They’re annoying. They’re loud and stay right outside your window and make that hideous sound.” 

One of my friends looked over at me, her square glasses perched on her nose. I could see her shoulders go up in a shrug under a green jumper, part of our school uniform. Then, through a South African accent, she said, “they sound like the monkeys that would be in my yard in South Africa.”  

This gave me pause. I had heard my share of monkeys and she was right. They did sound a lot more like monkeys than humans. 

From that day on I no longer heard the obnoxious laughter of a bird that did not want me to sleep. Instead, it sounded like a small bird trying to sound like a monkey. Perception, that’s all it was. Once my perception had changed it no longer bothered me. I could sleep again.

After four years I left Australia to return to the United States. It was nice to be home in the US. My family returned to my childhood home. It was a small house with a large yard with many trees and bushes spread across it, many of which I had helped plant. Nothing had changed. I had returned to the same twittering noises of the small birds outside. I lay down in my bed, my eyes closed . . . and then I heard a noise, “who . . . who.” The Great Horned owl is new and loud.

Kookaburras, Alice Pfau, 2014

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