Remember the old camp song about the kookaburra who sits in the old gum tree-ee? Remember the second verse: "counting all the monkeys he can see-ee. Stop kookaburra, stop kookaburra, that's not a monkey that's me." (Got that tune well and truly drilled into your head now? Good luck getting rid of it.)
It seems that the monkey-bird reference in the song is no accident. The first time I heard kookaburras, I thought "I didn't know they had monkeys in Australia."
They don't, of course, but the sound of the "laughing jackass" has been used in dozens of jungle movies, and even on rides at Disneyland -- apparently early sound engineers thought they sounded more monkey-like than real monkeys. If you think you've never heard one, have a listen here. If you have ever watched an old Tarzan movie, chances are pretty good you'll recognize the call.
For all their laughing, kookaburras are pretty serious-looking birds. Picture a kingfisher on steroids and you're on the right track. Now imagine one swooping down and seizing the meat out of your sandwich while it's en route to your mouth -- that happened to Sharon a few weeks ago while we were on Great Keppel Island. It makes you jump, for sure. Apparently people have been injured when the birds have come too close to their mouths while performing that little food-snatching trick.
The more I hear kookaburras, though, the more I like them. Particularly when there are two or three of them together, their laughter really is infectious. Rather mad, like a loon's "laughter", but not as mournful. And that inspired me to create The Kookaburra Punch Line Game. It goes like this: whenever you hear a kookaburra laughing, you say the punch line to a joke. "So the grasshopper says 'you have a drink named Steve?'" or "Wrecked him? Damn near killed him." If your timing is good, it sounds like you're the funniest guy in the jungle.
OK, I admit -- the game annoys the heck out of Sharon. But I still think it's pretty funny.
Now I need someone to see if it works in Canada. Camping season is beginning there, and nothing says camping like listening to a loon call on the lake. I need someone to try the game there -- toss out a punch line and see if the loon enjoys it.
Let me know.