Laughing Kookaburra (aka "Miss Apprehended")
Everyone in Australia (or even the World, thanks to the Movietone Newsreels in the 50's and 60's) know and love Australia's Laughing Kookaburra.
As with many bird species, they have their own special way of doing things which is quite unlike many other birds. And this "way that they do things" leads to many "mis-apprehensions" during breeding season (Sep thru Jan).
In breeding season, Kookies nest in a termite mound, or in hollows of trees. They don't build a nest as such - just use a convenient, ready-made place to call home. 3 to 4 eggs are laid, usually a day or two apart, thus a clutch of chicks will be of varying sizes.
While the young grow, the adults (and other family members) feed the chicks in their "home" until, one day, the oldest chick will decide it is time to go, (to be followed by chicks 2, 3 and 4 in following days) whereupon they flutter/glide to the ground and continue foraging there. They are not yet "flight-ready", but that can be just a matter of days away (in the case we witnessed), or, according to some books, weeks. This is just "the way they do things", and they should be left alone. The adults continue to feed and protect them while on the ground - a dangerous time for all.
In other circumstances, the loss of their "home" (via a tree felled, or a termite nest no longer able to carry the weight of three fat chicks) can sometimes lead to kookies that are too young being found on the ground. It can be quite a dilemma - to rescue, or not to rescue - that is the question!
At Left - this chick is still WAY smaller than the adult. It was on the ground after the tree it was in had been felled. It needed to go back up to safety. We called for help, and a nesting box was arranged.Around two weeks later, it came to ground once more, much larger (see Right) then flew up to join its folks in a tree within a day or so. If it had been found on the ground when the size at right, it should be left there, so long as parents are still around and taking care of it. The size is key - it should be nearing adult size, but with a very short tail, as shown.
Many people love to help - but can sometimes bring a "kookie found on the ground" to a carer. If the rescued kookie is the size at right, this would be a "mis-apprehension", and it should be returned to that same location to be with its parents asap.
But, if still too young, as in picture at left, then it should be returned to the tree in some kind of protective housing (see Annelise's story Three Birds in the Bush). A nesting box, or even just a cardboard box, can suffice. The adults seem to know when humans are helping, and patiently await a solution. Perhaps the only time a young kookie should actually come into care is when found injured.
In most cases, they are better off being with their family group, however we can make that happen. Unlike most other young birds, they do not "perch", as their feet are still weak, and do not grip. So a return to a tree must be in a protective covering of some kind, and not simply put on a branch.
See The Good the Cute and the Ugly for more photos of the stages of growth from chick to adult (other birds too, not just kookies).
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