My aunt told me a story about how she went camping with my uncle and an American friend of theirs. They were sitting down for dinner when a chattering, laughing cry filled the air. Startled, the American friend exclaimed "I didn't know you have monkeys in Australia!"

It was not a monkey, of course; it was a kookaburra, one of the quintessential Australian birds. They are the laughing spirits of the Aboriginal dreamtime, the jokers, pests, and troublemakers. There are many stories of how the kookaburra got his laugh. Their distinctive cries and patchy white-and-brown bodies are a familiar feature of the bush.

They are also meat eaters, and one of the few natural predators of snakes. I've seen them line up on a branch above a frying pan or BBQ, and swoop down to take sausages straight off the hotplate, to the extreme annoyance of the chef. They've even been known to swoop past your face and try and take the meat out of your sandwich as you raise it to your mouth. This may be an urban myth although I can definitely see it happening. The kookaburras must be gorging themselves at the moment, with the huge amount of cicadas we've had this summer.

The local primary school in my suburb has the school houses named after Australian bushland birds: Kookaburra, Rosella, Magpie, and Lorikeet. All the class clowns and "high-spirited" kids (like my brother) seemed to end up in Kookaburra house.