The blue-winged kookaburra is a large kingfisher with a big square head and a long bill. It has a distinctive pale eye. The head is off-white with brown streaks, the shoulders are sky blue and it has a uniform blue rump. The throat is plain white, and the underparts are white with faint scalloped orange-brown bars. The back is mid brown. Males have a dark blue tail while females’ tails are barred red-brown or blackish. Otherwise the sexes are similar. The legs and feet are grey, and the bill is dark above and yellowish below. Juveniles have paler streaks on the head with darker mottling. The blue-winged kookaburra is also known as the barking or howling jackass or Leach’s kookaburra. As they are shy and often quiet in the foliage they may be overlooked.
The blue-winged kookaburra is found in coastal and sub-coastal areas in northwest and northeast Australia, Torres Strait and Southern New Guinea. It is widespread in the Gulf Country of Queensland extending South to about Toowoomba. It is also widespread in the top end of Northern Territory. It is absent from the Eighty Mile beach area in Western Australia separating the Pilbara population. Blue-winged kookaburras are found in tropical and subtropical open woodlands, paperbark swamps, timber on watercourses, clearings, cane fields and farmlands. Blue-winged kookaburras are sedentary with local seasonal movements.
Blue-winged kookaburras eat a wide range of invertebrates and vertebrates. They consume mainly insects, reptiles and frogs in the wetter months, and fish, crayfish, scorpions, spiders, snakes, earthworms and small birds and mammals at other times. After a controlled dive with their bill open, food is grabbed from the ground. The bill has a special groove near the end of the upper mandible which helps in holding prey. After returning to a perch, the prey is beaten and then swallowed. They show extra care when snakes are the prey. Pellets of undigested items are regurgitated and found beneath daytime perches, roosting sites and nests.
The nest site of the blue-winged kookaburra is mostly high up in natural tree hollows (to about 25m), sometimes in tree termite nests, or in a hole cut into the soft wood of a baobab tree. Typically, the floor of the chamber is lower than the entrance, with an overall length of 50cm. The breeding pair share the incubation of the eggs and subsequent feeding, which extends for one to two months, and are often assisted by auxiliaries (helpers), mainly from the previous year’s clutch.