We show that free-ranging Laughing Kookaburras (Dacelo novaeguineae), the largest kingfishers, are heterothermic. Their minimum recorded body temperature (Tb) was 28.6°C, and the maximum daily Tb range was 9.1°C, which makes kookaburras only the second coraciiform species and the only member of the Alcedinidae known to be heterothermic. The amplitude of nocturnal body temperature variation for wild, free-living kookaburras during winter was substantially greater than the mean of 2.6°C measured previously for captive kookaburras. Calculated metabolic savings from nocturnal heterothermia were up to 5.6 ± 0.9 kJ per night. There was little effect of ambient temperature on any of the calculated Tb-dependent variables for the kookaburras, although ambient temperature did influence the time that activity commenced for these diurnal birds. Kookaburras used endogenous metabolic heat production to rewarm from low Tb, rather than relying on passive rewarming. Rewarming rates (0.05 ± 0.01°C min−1) were consistent with those of other avian species. Captivity can have major effects on thermoregulation for birds, and therefore the importance of field studies of wild, free-living individuals is paramount for understanding the biology of avian temperature regulation.
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Vol. 110 • No. 1