Why does a kookaburra laugh

An Australian tale retold

A long time ago, Wal Wallaby and Joey Kangaroo started a detective agency for there were far too many unsolved mysteries in the wild. The two, quite naturally were extremely busy and hence, took the help of Koo Kookaburra to solve some of the urgent cases that came across. “The Curious Case of the Abandoned Eggs” was one such case that the three put their heads together.

At the crack of dawn on a beautiful summer morning, Wal and Jo hopped out of their mom’s pouch to look for a new case. Sure enough they found one – to their delight there were two abandoned eggs in a brush at the edge of a stream.

“Wal, whose eggs are those? I think it rather strange that any ma bird would leave them at the mercy of dogs, crows and pigs. I smell a mystery here!” said Jo.

Wal nodded and said, “It sure seems a tough one to solve with so many different kinds of birds around. Maybe Koo should help us today.” The three set to work right away to solve the mystery.

With the help of an old instamatic camera, Jo took a picture of the two eggs. The detectives watched with fascination as a little square picture came out of the box. “I will show it to some of my friends,” said Koo as she took the picture in her beak. On the way to her eucalyptus tree, she met a purple swamp hen talking to an orange-footed scrub fowl.

“Hello ladies, look at the picture. Are they yours by any chance?” asked Koo. The two birds burst out laughing. “If they were mine, I would be sitting on it,” said Ma Hen, and Ma Fowl nodded in agreement. Disappointed, Koo the took the photo to the riverside birds. The ducks there quacked in scorn and the geese pooh-poohed the idea that it was theirs.

“Why don’t you ask the masked barn owl?” suggested a guinea fowl as she walked past the kookaburra. “I will bet, with feathers all over her face she does not know where to find her eggs.” “No they aren’t hers nor are they mine,” called out a white sulphur-crested cockatoo who was listening in from her perch on a tree nearby. “Umm…it’s going to be difficult to find the owner of the eggs,” said Koo. On her way back to Wal and Joe, she showed the picture to a king parrot and a red-crested dove, a white-headed pigeon and a sand plover. But they shook their heads to say no.

Meanwhile, Wal and Jo had a cassowary dad to keep the eggs warm till their real mother returned. It wasn’t going to be an easy puzzle to solve. Soon, everyone in the bird land was chirping about the cruel mother who didn’t want her unborn chicks. Crows cawed in anger and mynahs, sparrows, turkeys and pheasants could not stop talking about this event.

The day passed in suspense and in the fading light of the evening light, cassowary dad saw someone slithering up to the brush where he was warming the eggs. “Who is out there?” he called out loudly. Jo quickly fished out a torchlight and shone it on the intruder. “Why it is Ma Platypus?” exclaimed Wal in surprise. “What are you doing here?” “I have come to take my eggs,” replied the mammal. The kookaburra could not believe her ears. “Is this duck-bill platypus an egg-laying mammal?” Even as she watched with rounded eyes, the two little eggs cracked open and little platypuses crawled out. They quickly climbed on mama’s back and the three disappeared into the river.

Koo gave a shout of laughter at the absurd end to this “mystery”. She laughed all night, and at dawn the next day she narrated the story to all other kookaburras in the neighborhood  which made them all laugh too. They say, from that day onwards this bird laughs aloud early every morning all across Australia.


Published as part of a series titled ‘Folktales of the World (Retold) ’ in Deccan Herald, Student Edition, dt. March 1, 2013


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