There are various types of butcherbirds but in this instance I am describing the grey butcherbird as it was he (or she) that visited our garden this week. I'd not realised they were only found in Australia so thought it would be good to describe these birds for those that know nothing of them or their habits.
The Grey Butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus) is a widely distributed species endemic to Australia. This bird occurs in a range of different habitats including arid, semi-arid and temperate ones. It has a characteristic "rollicking" birdsong. It appears to be adapting well to city living, and can be encountered in the suburbs of many Australian cities. The grey butcherbird preys on small vertebrates including other birds.
The adult bird has a black crown and face and grey back, with a thin white collar. The wings are grey, with large areas of white and the underparts are white. The grey and black bill is large, with a small hook at the tip of the upper bill. The eyes are dark brown and the legs and feet dark grey. Both sexes are similar in plumage, but the females are slightly smaller than the males.
Young grey butcherbirds resemble the adults, but have black areas replaced with olive-brown and a buff wash on the white areas. The bill is completely dark grey and often lacks an obvious hook (although I think I can see one in this picture). They are sometimes mistaken for kingfishers.
With its lovely, lilting song the butcherbird may not seem to be a particularly intimidating species. However, with its strong, hooked beak and its fierce stare, it is not a bird to be messed with. When there is a nest or newly fledged chicks, if you venture too close, a butcherbird will swoop by flying straight at your face, sometimes striking with enough force to draw blood, and each swoop is accompanied by a loud, maniacal cackle.
They are aggressive predators. They prey on small animals, including birds, lizards and insects, as well as eating some fruits and seeds. They are known as 'butcherbirds' as they tend to 'butcher' their prey before eating it. Uneaten food may be stored in the fork of a branch or impaled against a tree trunk. Most mobile prey is caught on the ground, though small birds and insects may be caught in flight. Feeding normally takes place alone, in pairs or in small family groups. They are known to raid the nests of other birds when the opportunity presents itself.
The nest is bowl-shaped and is made of sticks and twigs. lined with grasses and other soft fibres. It is normally located within 10m of the ground. The eggs are incubated by the female and the young birds are fed by both parents. The young birds will remain in the breeding territory for about a year, and help the parents raise the young of the following season.
Butcherbirds do have a very beautiful varied 'songs', especially the Pied Butcherbird. They are a lovely bird to look at and I always think it a shame that such a good-looking bird can be quite so violent at times.
Other birds in the same family include the Australian Magpie, the Currawongs, Woodswallows and other member of the butcherbird genus Cracticus.