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The Chorus Song of Cooperatively Breeding Laughing Kookaburras (Coraciiformes, Halcyonidae: Dacelo novaeguineae): Characterization and Comparison Among Groups


Myron C. Baker, Biology Department, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523, USA. E-mail:


I studied vocalizations of laughing kookaburras in Western Australia by sampling the laugh-song choruses of eight different groups and the isolated vocalizations of four individuals of this cooperatively breeding species. These data provided a description of the acoustic structure of vocal elements of the laugh song and a between-group comparison of laugh choruses. I identified six different categories of syllables: some syllable types appear graded with modal forms predominating. Group choruses were produced by several birds vocalizing simultaneously, usually following initiation by a single bird producing one of two typical introductory sets of syllable repetitions. Statistical analyses of samples of mid-chorus vocalizations of kookaburra groups revealed that the samples from each of the eight groups clustered in principal coordinate space and the group clusters segregated from each other to a significant degree. Linear discriminant analysis assigned 24 of the 25 samples to their correct groups. These results suggest that there is group-specific vocal signature information in the laugh chorus. The within-group similarity and between-group differences may result from heritable variation or from imitation learning. Observations of the contexts of the laugh chorus vocalization supported the interpretations of others that the chorus song is involved in group advertisement of territory occupancy and in defense of the communal borders.