Backyard Buddies
Pied Butcherbird

Photo: Ken Stepnell/OEH

Pied Butcherbird

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Found across most of Australia, except Tasmania and southern Victoria, there'۪s a good chance of finding a Pied Butcherbird in your backyard.

The Pied Butcherbird, Cracticus nigrogularis, may sing like an angel, but its name and the distinct hook on its beak are subtle hints to their rather gruesome feeding habits. Butcherbirds are insect eaters, but they will also go after other small meaty prey such as lizards and birds.

When a butcherbird catches its prey, he can't hold it down with his little feet like a hawk or crow would. Instead, he wedges the food into a forked branch or upon a thorn, stands back and tears it apart with his hooked beak. Hence the name 'butcher bird'.

Butcherbirds play an important role in our natural environment by controlling the numbers of common birds like pigeons and also reducing the insects in our neighbourhoods.

These birds live in family groups of up to about six birds and live in the same territories year after year. They also defend their nests very aggressively against intruders.

Having a tight-knit family is a big help for the butcherbird because while the female constructs the nest and incubates the eggs alone, the male and other members of the group will make sure she is kept well fed. Her nest is a bowl of sticks and twigs that she lines with grasses and soft materials. She builds it in an upright tree fork up to 5m above the ground. The family is so close that it is not uncommon for more than one female to lay her eggs in the nest as all the babies will be raised equally.

When the chick leaves the nest it will remain with its mother until almost fully grown. Young Butcherbirds tend to trail behind their mother and squeak incessantly while she catches food. They will stay around for a year and even help the parents bring up the next season's chicks.

You're more likely to hear a Pied butcherbird than see one. Though they live across most of mainland Australia, they like to perch high in the trees where we can't easily see them. However, their loud, flute-like notes carry over a long distance and are wonderful to hear.

Pied butcherbirds mimic sounds like phones ringing, car alarms going off and dogs barking. They can also imitate other bird calls.

Tip

Butcherbirds love to eat insects, lizards, mice, and a few seeds and fruits too. Mulch your garden to encourage lizards, and plant a few fruit bearing native species to encourage birds to your place.

Did you know?

Whenever you see the word 'pie' in a bird or animal's name, it means that the creature has two or more colours - for instance, Pied currawongs and Pied butcherbirds are black and white, and a piebald horse is black or brown and white.

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Quote

”The BYB initiative and resources teaches kids about the wonders of Australia’s wildlife & wilderness, so they love & cherish it forever.“

John – Teacher, Beauty Point School, NSW

Photo: OEH