Backyard Buddies
Grey Butcherbird

Photo: R Nicolai

Grey Butcherbird

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Grey Butcherbirds, much like Ravens, are meat-loving birds that aren't afraid to come near to our homes and gardens. In fact, our backyards are often a treasure trove for these buddies that eat insects, beetles, caterpillars, mice, lizards, skinks and other small buddies.

The Grey Butcherbird, Cracticus torquatus, is found across Australia, from mid-eastern Queensland, through southern Australia, including Tasmania, to northern Western Australia. There is an isolated population in the Kimberley and the northernmost parts of the Northern Territory.

Buddies like the Grey Butcherbird are not only garden visitors but are also attracted to our streets, where they can scavenge on road kill. This may not sound too appealing, but it's actually a useful job the Grey Butcherbird performs for us. It helps keep our environment clean and healthy by recycling nutrients back into the soil.

To attract native birds including Butcherbirds to your garden install a bird bath or put out containers of clean, fresh water each day. Many different kinds of birds will drink from them or take a dip on a hot day. You will soon discover that most birds enjoy a chance to wet their feathers and fluff themselves up afterwards.

Grey Butcherbirds have a dark side. Many small birds tremble in fear when they hear the beautiful, rollicking call of this bird, which it often performs in a duet. That's because small birds, their chicks and eggs are on the menu of the Grey Butcherbird.

Butcherbirds get their name from their gruesome way of feeding. The Grey Butcherbird'۪s mean-looking hooked beak gives you a clue. When they catch prey, they hang it off a branch or tree fork, and hack the meat away, just like a butcher. It also hangs uneaten food in the fork of a branch or impaled on a twig (their 'larder') and comes back to eat the leftovers later.

The adult Grey Butcherbird has a black head and face and a grey back, with a thin white collar. The wings are grey, with large areas of white and are white underneath. Their large hooked beaks are grey and black. The females are slightly smaller than the males but have the same colouring.

Grey Butcherbirds love to eat meat such as lizards, mice, beetles, insects, chicks and small birds, and other small buddies. When they spy their prey, they pounce quickly on it, or can even catch prey in mid-air.

Grey Butcherbirds will also occasionally eat fruit and seeds, which you may see them hunting for in your garden.

Spring is a good time to see a Grey Butcherbird with its chicks. These birds breed from July to January each year. The females lay three to five eggs in a nest up to 10 metres high off the ground. The female will incubate her eggs for about 25 days, and then both parents feed the chicks.

In some Grey Butcherbird families, the chicks will stay around for a year after they have fledged to help their parents raise the next set of chicks.

Grey Butcherbirds have a wide variety of rich, melodious calls.

Did you know?

Grey Butcherbirds have almost frontal vision, much like a raptor. This kind of vision helps them find their prey. Look out for them perching above areas you have just dug up in the garden, looking for grubs or other unearthed bugs.

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”’s all connected, your backyard to the big backyard and everything in between – we can all do our bit to help out nature.“

John - National Parks Volunteer, SA

Photo: OEH