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Grey Butcherbird

Cracticus torquatus

Description

The adult Grey Butcherbird has a black crown and face and a 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 eye is dark brown and the legs and feet are dark grey. Grey Butcherbirds measure 24cm - 30cm, and both sexes are similar in plumage, but the females are slightly smaller than the males. The song is a lovely rich piping.

Young Grey Butcherbirds resemble 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.

Distribution and Habitat

Grey Butcherbirds are found in a range of wooded habitats, including suburban areas. They are common in the gardens of Dilston, Windermere and Swan Bay.

Food and Feeding

Grey Butcherbirds are aggressive predators. They prey on small animals, including birds, lizards and insects, as well as some fruits and seeds. Uneaten food may be stored in the fork or a branch or impaled. Grey Butcherbirds sit on an open perch searching for prey which, once sighted, they pounce on. Most mobile prey is caught on the ground, although small birds and insects may be caught in flight. Feeding normally takes place alone, in pairs or in small family groups. Last summer I watched a pair of these birds harassing a 1.5 metre copperhead snake, which eventually sought refuge in the cover of  a Hawthorn thicket to escape their aggression. Recently a neighbour related evidence of Butcher birds preying on very young rabbits in his backyard.

Breeding

Grey Butcherbirds breed from July to January. 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 three to five eggs are incubated by the female, and hatch after about 25 days. The young birds are fed by both parents, and leave the nest after 28 days. The young birds will remain in the breeding territory for about a year, and help the parents raise the young of the following season.