Pied Butcherbird

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The pied butcherbird is a a mid-sized black and white songbird native to Australia. The Pied Butcherbird is across much of mainland Australia with exception to some desert locations and Tasmania. Focused primarily in woodland and water dense areas such as river systems and billabongs, the pied butcherbird is carnivorous living off a wide variety of insects popular in these areas.

Aliases

Species nameOther names
Cracticus nigrogularisBlack-throated Butcherbird
Black-throated Crow-shrike
Organ Bird
Break-o’-day-boy

Derivation of Cracticus nigrogularis:

PronunciationSourceRootqMeaning
Crac-tic-usGreekcracticosloud-voiced
ni-gro-gu-la-risLatinnigerblack
gularisthroated

Why Butcherbird? large food items are wedged in the fork of two branches and torn apart or butchered using the hooked beak

Appearance

Size Relative to Other Birds:

Smaller birdsBirds of similar sizeLarger birds
Willie WagtailGrey ButcherbirdAustralian Magpie
Noisy MinerMagpie Larkcurrawongs
wrensSpotted Turtle-dovecrows
sparrowsCrested Pigeon 

Distinguising features

  • black head
  • hook on the tip of the beak (often broken)
  • black bib (upperbreast)
  • white belly
  • white collar
Effect of age on plummage
AdultWhite, totally black
SubadultWhite, black with dark brown tinge to wing and tail feathers (best seen in sunlight); continues for a number of years
Immature
(in its first year)
Pale buff bib, creamy belly, dark brown head, tail, and wings; moulting into subadult plumage occurs during its second summer at about 12-15 months of age
  • Adult males and females are considered sexually monomorphic (a single body type) i.e. males and females look the same BUT watch out for the colour of the collar; some birds, thought to be males, have very pristine, white collars while other birds thought to be female have a greyish tinge to the collar; this only applies to adult (completely black) birds
  • Moulting occurs during summer

Voice

  • wide vocal repertoire
  • most easily recognised call is a beautiful flute-like song usually heard early in day
  • an alarm-like call to signal the end of the day when ready to roost

Breeding

TOPICDETAILS
Breeding SeasonAugust to December
Frequency of Breedingoncemay renest if the first nest is destroyed soon after hatching
Nest Constructionopen, bowl of sticks and twigs lined with grassa new nest is built each year, usually in a different treebuilt by dominant female of the group (occasionally another female in the group will also have nest)additional nests are built by others but are not used – practice?
Nest Locationin an upright fork, 5-15 m up, with overhanging branches for shade and out towards the edge of the foliage
Eggsincubated by dominant femalenot affected by cuckoos
Nestlings1-4, average of 2brooded by dominant femalefed by most if not all group members i.e.cooperative breeders where individuals other than the parents help to raise the young (also known in mammal and insect societies)produce faecal sacs which are removed by attendants and dropped away from the nest; fighting between helpers for possession of the sacs is not unknownjust prior to fledging, nestlings stand on the nest and stretch their wings and are lifted by the wind; those that don’t do this tend to be weak fliers initially
Fledglingsfledging occurs about 4 weeks after hatchingfledglings continue to be fed and defended by the rest of the group

Diet

CATEGORYFOOD ITEMS
invertebratesgrubs (insect larvae), worms, insects especially moths, beetles, and grasshoppers
vertebratesskinks, frogs, birds, mice
vegetable matterflower petals, fruits
  • principally carnivorous but also consume small quantities of vegetable material
  • predation style: sit and wait – perch on a branch until a food item becomes apparent; forage in air, from tree trunks (Gallery), on ground
  • why Butcherbird? large food items are wedged between two branches and torn apart or butchered using the hooked beak

Distribution

TOPICDETAILS
RangeAustralian mainland except coastal, southern New South Wales, Victoria, southern South Australia, and south-west Western Australia
Habitatwoodlands, anywhere with treesnot in heavily timbered areas; benefited from forest clearingparks, gardens
Statuscommon
Seasonal Movementsnone, sedentary

Endangered status – not at all!

Observer hints

Optimal times and places

  • active throughout the day but slow down around midday to early afternoon when they perch
  • likely to be feeding on the ground early in the day and late in the afternoon but close to trees
  • often seen on telegraph wires or poles
  • during breeding season, when busy feeding their young
  • CAUTION easily disturbed – give an alarm call and fly away

Relationship with people

  • will defend nest and recently fledged young vigorously
  • may hang about in the garden if a compost heap is being turned or grass mowed

Relationship with other birds

  • although the distributions of Pied Butcherbirds and Grey Butcherbirds overlap, the territories of groups of the two species do not; Pied/Grey territory boundaries are aggressively defended by the Grey
  • Butcherbirds; otherwise Pied Butcherbirds nest in the same area and sometimes in the same trees as Torresian Crows, Australian Magpies, Noisy Miners
  • nesting not affected by cuckoos
  • respond to the alarm calls of other birds especially Noisy Miners
    join with other birds particularly Noisy Miners in repelling potential predators like goannas, snakes, hawks, and cats
  • dislike Kookaburras intensely

Nearest relatives

 GENUS CracticusFAMILY Artamidae
 * grey butcherbird §
* black butcherbird §
* black-backed butcherbird §
woodswallows
Australian magpies §
currawongs §
Characteristicssturdy bodies
robust, straight beaks with hooked tip
black /grey / white coloration
loud voices
strong and agile in flight
 
* Pied Butcherbird issympatric with this species meaning that the distributions of the two species overlap(two species are said to be allopatric where distributions do not overlap)§  formerly belonged to Family Cracticidae

Social system

TopicDetails
Seasonal movements none, sedentarymaintain permanent, year-round territories
Group size 3- 15, average of 6group sizes tend to be smaller in suburban areas than in rural areasgroups increase in size by retaining the offspring of previous years and as few birds are able to move into established territories, groups tend to be family-based
Dominance relationshipsthere is a dominant female that is involved in nesting activitiesno obvious pair bond
Lifespanat least 8 years probably much longerabout 60% of fledglings survive their first year
Dispersalfledglings remain in their natal group until they have moulted into subadult plumageoccurs prior to breeding season in June-August
Roostingmembers of a group roost together at nightlocation of the roost changes frequentlyroosting often involves a number of sneaky flights from tree to tree before settlingthere is one final alarm-like call made by a single bird in each group that can be heard during this period
Territory defence against other groupscarried out using vocal displays each day to signal who’s wherefor adjacent territories, there are aerial contests that involve magnificent circling flights, lots of noise, but very little contact; may hear the clacking of beaks
Defence against predatorsinvolves continual harrassment often worked in waves so that as one set of defenders tires another set is ready to take overworks effectively with aerial predators like hawks and Kookaburras where the defenders swoop about the head of a perched offenderwith snakes, a group of birds peck at different parts of the body of the snake causing it to writhe one way and then another until it falls off the branchcombine with Noisy Miners in these defence strategies

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