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Mike Carter <>
BUTCHERBIRD at work
Brian Fleming <>
Mon, 30 Jun 2003 15:07:00 +1000
I agree with Mike Carter.
I have only once seen a Grey Butcherbird at work on prey in its butcher
style. This was at Banyule Flats during the great Painted Snipe
observation phase, a year or two back. In a fair-sized tree just west of
the Frogmouths' Ironbark, I noticed something bright red, up in the
canopy. When I checked with binocs, this proved to be the carcass of a
fair-sized fledgling, probably a Noisy Miners (there was a nest nearby
and the adult NMs were protesting and making disregarded attacks at the
The Butcherbird had wedged the fledgling into a narrow fork, between
twigs, by its head. The body was hanging like a carcass in an
old-fashioned butcher's shop, and running with fresh blood, as the
Butcherbird tore strips of flesh from it. These it carried to its own
two feathered young elsewhere in the tree. It took less than a quarter
of an hour to pull the body apart to a point where the neck parted and
the remains (stripped body skeleton) fell into long grass below while
the head remained wedged. The Butcherbird didn't go down to look for the
fallen part but flew off at this point.
A captive bird in the Zoo also wedged pieces of meat into its chain-link
cage netting and into forks in the cage's vegetation. When I have found
remnants of Butcherbird prey (usually lizards) in barbwire fences, they
too have been wedged between the main horizontal wire and the barbs.
in Ivanhoe, Vic.
Mike Carter wrote:
> In a reply to JAG, copied below, Philip Veerman inadvertently assists
> in perpetuating what I regard as one of the greatest myths in
> Australian ornithology.
> That Butcherbirds impale their prey.
> At least I have found no evidence of this in Grey Butcherbird which I
> have observed in detail over many years. To the contrary, even when
> storing food in their 'larder' as it has been called, in trees with
> numerous spikes or thorns, they choose not to impale, instead wedging
> it between the spikes or in clefts, never securing it on a spike as do
> the Lanius Shrikes.
> Convinced of the above, the late and great Graham Pizzey raised the
> matter with me and we exchanged some correspondence. I like to think
> that partly as a consequence of that exchange, on page 542 of the
> Pizzey & Knight Field Guide he wrote the following.
> "Larger victims are wedged into a fork (or an angle in wires of a
> fence or clothes-hoist) for purchase to tear against. But prey is
> seldom if ever impaled on thorns".
> Mike Carter
> 30 Canadian Bay Road
> Mt Eliza VIC 3930
> Ph: (03) 9787 7136
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