Pat, the pied butcherbird
Also called black-throated butcherbird, organ-bird
Hello song-lovers. I'm Pat, the pied butcherbird. I'm regarded as one of the finest bird musicians and choristers in Australia.
I have a beautiful piping call that is at its best at dawn on autumn mornings. Sometimes it is my own composition, and sometimes I copy other bird songs that I like.
My favourite song is producing the notes of a D augmented chord — D above middle C, up to A-sharp, down to A-sharp an octave below, then finish up on an F-sharp.
To sing these tones magnificently, I make the notes sound like they come from a mellow panpipe in a fine glass bottle.
How can you recognize me?
You can easily distinguish pied butcherbirds from grey butcherbirds around our home at Calamvale Creek. Pied butcherbirds like me have a black throat that extends down to the upper chest, although the juvenile pieds are brown. As they mature, the brown parts turn to black.
Grey butcherbirds don't have the black throat like we pieds do.
But let me make it easy for you. Look at the three pictures above. The first is me. Notice the black throat that all pied butcherbirds have. The second is Pickle, my juvenile daughter. Notice she looks exactly like me except that her throat is brown. The third is Greg the grey butcherbird who also hangs around the creek. He has a white throat, as all grey butcherbirds do.
Pieds and greys are the only two types of butcherbirds you will find in the wild in Brisbane.
The greys have a black head, but not a black bib under their beaks.
Why are we called butcherbirds?
It's a little unfair, but we are called butcherbirds because of the way we “tenderize” our prey before eating it. We have good reasons for doing it this way, which I will explain shortly. But first, I will show you a rare sequence of photos that shows how we catch and butcher our prey.
In photo 1, I have just come down to a low perch on a bare branch. We do most of our hunting on the ground, and we don't like bushy leaves getting in our way. I'm just about to swoop on a large caterpillar for lunch.
In photo 2, I've caught the caterpillar in a single swift manoeuvre, and am holding it with my strong beak after flying to a higher bare branch.
In photo 3, I am shaking the grub around to tenderize it and stop it from wriggling.
In photo 4, I use my sharp beak like a nail to pin the caterpillar to the tree trunk. This holds it there, like a butcher's hook holds a side of meat, until I am ready to eat it.
What else do I eat?
Look at my daughter's sharp pointed beak in the photo at right. Her long, sharp bill is a wonderful asset for hunting and singing. She would win any pied butcherbird beauty contest with a hooter like that.
Sometimes, if what we catch is large, we push it into the fork of a tree branch or hang it on a sharp twig while we tenderize it.
I know it sounds gruesome, but we have to do it this way. Our legs are short, which restricts our speed on the ground, and also means we can't hold our food with a leg up to our mouth like crows do.
Our nesting time is usually in spring, but may be any time from late winter until the start of summer.
Mrs Pied in the photo above is out looking for a suitable fork in a tree to build a nest. Around the creek, we build nests on bare tree forks with no foliage obstructing them, about 3-8 metres off the ground (10-26 feet).
Mrs Pied will construct her nest and incubate the 3-5 eggs on her own, but the rest of the family will feed her during this time. Her nest is a large rough dish made of sticks, lined with soft grass, straw, and maybe some tender dry leaves from dead palm fronds.
Mrs P. sits on the eggs for three weeks until they hatch, and a month later the young birds will have developed their wing feathers and can leave the nest.
— Pat, the pied butcherbird