There are four Butcherbird species in Australia. Grey Butcherbirds and Pied Butcherbirds are the two species commonly found on Bribie Island. They are fairly similar in appearance if sighted from a distance but are easily distinguished if seen together. Pied Butcherbirds are black and white with a prominent black collar around the throat which distinguishes them from all other species.
Featured Image(above): Grey Butcherbird
Grey Butcherbirds are smaller with black, white and grey colouring and white throats. Their native habitat is in open forests, but they are commonly found in urban areas and in parks and gardens. Both species can become friendly to humans who choose to give them handouts but are often very aggressive during nesting season sometimes attacking humans and animals that come too close to their nests.
Grey Butcherbird, Juvenile
They have many similar traits and superb melodious calls which some composers in the past have incorporated into their music – eg. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
Grey Butcherbirds – Cracticus torquatus
Grey Butcherbirds are 28 – 32 cm and weigh about 90 g. Both male and female are similar in appearance with the female being slightly smaller. Juveniles have similar markings but are brown in colour. Nests are untidy and usually built in the forks of trees. Females lay 3 – 5 brownish eggs and incubate them for 24 – 26 days. Male birds feed the females while they are sitting on the eggs.
Both parents feed the young and are very aggressive towards perceived threats to their chicks. Fledgelings leave the nest in 28 – 30 days but remain with their parents for some time and are often still present to help them with next season’s brood. Breeding season is from late winter to summer. When feeding alone or in small family groups they sit on a low perch waiting for prey to emerge. They then dive to the ground to pick up insects, small reptiles and mammals.
If the prey is large, they will often impale it on a tree branch to be butchered or to keep for a later date – hence the name Butcherbird. Sometimes they prey on the young of other birds and attack birds feeding on the ground to steal their food. Grey Butcherbirds are found all over Australia except for parts of Cape York and central Australia where it is too dry. They are similar to the Black-backed Butcherbird which is smaller and found in northern tropical regions. They were first described in science by John Latham in 1801.
Pied Butcherbirds – Cracticus nigrogularis
Pied Butcherbirds are found almost all over Australia except for Tasmania, Southern Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. They are 32 – 35 cm long, weigh around 120g and are slightly larger than Grey Butcherbirds. Young birds have similar markings but are brown and white in colour.
Pied Butcherbird, Juvenile
Pied Butcherbirds are more family oriented with family groups remaining longer together to share with the chores when a new brood is hatched. Both species have similar nests and feeding habits. 3-5 brownish spotted eggs are laid and incubated by the female for 20 – 21 days. After about 30 -32 days the chicks fledge. Pied butcherbirds are thought to mate for life. Their nests are sometimes targeted by parasitic birds such as some of the larger Cuckoos.
Because of their main insect diet, they are welcomed by many farmers who appreciate their culling of unwanted vermin. The first scientific recording was made by John Gould in 1837 on a specimen found near Sydney. Their scientific name comes from the Latin words – niger meaning Black and gula meaning throat. Conservation status for both species is secure with no evidence of decline. The oldest recorded living Butcherbird was at 22 years.