Kookaburra’s Laugh

(A folktale)

One morning long ago, Kookaburra sat high and solemn in his gum tree, looking down on the rain-washed world. He had heard the strong night wind uproot a tall tree near the pond, so he flew down to take a look. Lying on the earth where the tree roots had been were two tiny eggs. The falling tree must have disturbed a bird’s nest. But whose?

Kookaburra thought he knew almost everything there was to know about anything. But he didn’t know who had laid the eggs. Mrs. Kookaburra agreed to sit on them to keep them warm while Kookaburra tried to find their owner.

First he flew to his friends in the trees. He asked Cockatoo about the eggs, and Cockatoo asked Parakeet. Then Parakeet asked Parrot. But none of them knew whose eggs Kookaburra had found.

Next Kookaburra searched out his friends who lived on the ground. He found Bowerbird decorating his nest with flowers, berries, and pieces of brightly colored material. Bowerbird came proudly down his mossy path and greeted his guest. Unfortunately, Bowerbird had never seen any eggs like Kookaburra described. So Kookaburra said, “Bowerbird, Bowerbird, come with me. Come see the eggs by the fallen tree.” And off they went.

Then Kookaburra and Bowerbird went to see Lyrebird, who was easy to find because he was putting on a show that very minute. What a sight he was! He danced around on the little stage of earth and vegetable matter that he had built, mimicking the song of one bird after another. His very long tail feathers fanned out in the sun in the shape of a lyre.

Kookaburra and Bowerbird politely waited until his act was over before asking about the eggs. But Lyrebird didn’t know whose eggs they were. So Kookaburra said, “Lyrebird, Lyrebird, come with me. Come see the eggs by the fallen tree.” And off they went.

Beyond the trees, Kookaburra and Bowerbird and Lyrebird saw the Mallee Fowls in a clearing. Their eggs had been laid, and Mallee was putting a big pile of sand over the vegetation that covered the eggs. As the visitors watched, he next scratched away earth in the center of the pile to make a little hole to let in warm air. His beak worked just like a thermometer, testing to see that the eggs were not too warm or too cool.

Kookaburra said, “Mallee Fowls, Mallee Fowls, come with me. Come see the eggs by the fallen tree.”

Mrs. Mallee explained that her mate could not leave their eggs, but she would go with them herself. So Kookaburra, Bowerbird, Lyrebird and Mrs. Mallee returned to the edge of the pond.

Mrs. Kookaburra was still there, sitting on the eggs. Kookaburra thought that if they would all hide behind the gum tree and wait very quietly, the mother bird might still return. So they did.

They had sat still for only a few minutes, although it seemed like a very, very long time, when they saw the strangest sight! Up the bank toddled a furry creature. It had a bill like a duck, but it had no wings. Its long tail was wide and flat like a beaver’s tail. And its legs were very short with webbed feet.

Kookaburra recognized Mrs. Platypus. She was returning to the place where she had dug her home under the ground. Mrs. Platypus had thought her eggs had been lost during the storm, and when she saw the two little eggs, she waddled from side to side and clattered her giant bill. Then she cuddled up to her eggs.

Because Mrs. Kookaburra had kept the eggs warm, they were all ready to hatch. One began to crack open, then the other. Out popped two tiny platypuses. They crawled right up onto their mother’s tummy and held on with all their might.

Kookaburra and his friends watched every move. Mrs. Platypus scooted right back down into the pond and flipped over onto her back in the water. She gave one big splat with her tail and floated away just like a big log, with her babies riding on top of her.

Mrs. Kookaburra said, “Well, I never!”

Mrs. Mallee ruffled her feathers and said, “Unbelievable!”

Lyrebird fanned out his tail, danced around in a circle, and started to sing.

Bowerbird picked up a feather to take to his bower, and Kookaburra blinked his eyes. He shook his head and stared in amazement. The eggs had not belonged to any bird at all, but to Mrs. Platypus. The joke was on him!

Kookaburra’s solemn look vanished, and he began to laugh. He flew back to his high branch in the gum tree and laughed louder and louder until his laugh rang out clear across the Land Down Under, where his laugh can be heard to this very day.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Shauna Mooney