A great egret looks for breakfast at Calamvale Creek

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Scientific stuff

Pied butcherbird
Also called
black-throated butcherbird,
organ-bird

Species:
Cracticus nigrogularis
Family:
Artamidae
Order:
Passeriformes
Size:
32-36 centimetres
(13-15 inches)

Identification:
Black and white bird distinguished by a black bib around its throat and upper chest.

Head, throat, upper chest, and back of tail are black. Wings are black with some white of various thickness around edges.

Has a strong, long, pointed beak with a tiny hook at the end. Beak is grey, with black near the tip.

Underbody is white, as is the nape of its neck.

Juveniles have reddish brown where the adults have black. Amateur bird watchers sometimes confuse juveniles with kookaburras.

Pied butcherbirds are perhaps the most melodious songbirds in Australia, with haunting melodies that can sound like a flute being played in a fine crystal jar.

Personality:
Patient, swift, and accurate. Patient until it sees prey on or near the ground, then swoops down to catch it with rarely a miss.

Using our photos

Photos on this website are copyright. If you want to use any, email us at: creeklife@gmail.com

Pat's photos

Pat was out with his pied butcherbird family when our photographer saw them.

They were flitting from high branches to low branches when the photographer realized their behaviour meant they were starting to hunt for food.

The photographer said:
“There were two adults and three brown juveniles in the group. One of the young ones saw something moving on the ground and swooped down to pick it up.

“Then they all came down to lower branches and I realized they were looking for prey.

“Pat seemed to be supervising as he watched his young ones dive to the ground when they saw a tasty morsel.

“As I was taking photos of this, Pat swooped down with pinpoint accuracy and grabbed a large caterpillar.

“It was then I realized I was about to witness what butcherbirds are famous for — butchering their prey.

“I got the photo sequence of him looking, catching the caterpillar, shaking it, then impaling it on a tree trunk with his powerful beak. The photos on this page tell the story.”

Critters of Calamvale Creek

Pat, the pied butcherbird

Also called black-throated butcherbird, organ-bird

Cracticus nigrogularis

pied_butcherbird_1 (27K) 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.

pied_butcherbird_song (1K)

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.

pied_butcherbird_2 (37K)

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.

Cracticus_nigrogularis_3 (100K)

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?

pied_butcherbird_4 (28K)I eat lizards and other small reptiles such as water skinks and baby water dragons, mice, large insects, and even small birds at times.

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.

My family

Our nesting time is usually in spring, but may be any time from late winter until the start of summer.

Cracticus_nigrogularis_5 (44K)

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