One less finch

To: Philip Veerman <>
Subject: One less finch
From: Martin Butterfield via Canberrabirds <>
Date: Mon, 18 Jul 2022 00:59:38 +0000
When growing up in the UK the appearance of a Cuckoo (the poor Poms only have one species so don't need to bother with an adjective) would cause much alarm and despondency.  It was widely believed this was due to the appearance of the Cuckoo in flight being much like a Sparrowhawk.  So possibly the pattern recognition element of the alarm response is triggered by the shape of the bird in flight and when a Butcherbird (and the other species listed by Steve) is perched it looks like a large friendly passerine and can thus be ignored.  

Once the small bird has found the error of its way it is too late to pass this knowledge into the gene pool but instead it gets a Darwin Award (Avian Division).

On Mon, 18 Jul 2022 at 10:20, Philip Veerman <> wrote:

Hard to know for sure. Many years ago, when I lived in Melbourne where the Grey Butcherbird was (is?) common and I kept many finches, the butcherbirds were a frequent visitor to the aviary (as was the occasional Brown Goshawk) and they certainly caused panic among the finches. Although that was when it would run along on the roof in pursuit. I don’t know if they recognise a perched butcherbird as a threat.




From: Canberrabirds [ On Behalf Of Steve Read via Canberrabirds
Sent: Monday, 18 July, 2022 9:34 AM
To: 'COG bird list'
Subject: [Canberrabirds] One less finch


Morning all


During a quiet walk yesterday around the ANBG, I was standing alongside the eastern boundary fence watching a couple of Red-browed Finch foraging at the edge of the grass along with a group of fairywren, and listening to the ‘seep’ winter call of a Golden Whistler in the tree above, when an immature Grey Butcherbird flew in and  landed on the fence, no more than a couple of metres from me, and in full view. A minute or so later, the butcherbird flew down, picked up one of the finches by the neck, and flew into the nearest shrub. The other small birds scattered. Draped across a branch, held in the butcherbird’s claws, the finch immediately appeared lifeless. After another minute or so looking around, the butcherbird flew away with its prey, and the wrens re-emerged.


Just another moment of life and death, as happen whether we are there as witness or not. But my question is – why were the small birds not noticeably alarmed when the butcherbird first appeared? It was very visible. If it had been a sparrowhawk, it would likely have caused panic, with birds scattering immediately it appeared, and would possibly also have been mobbed by larger birds. Are butcherbirds not recognised as threats? The same question could apply to currawongs, magpies and kookaburras, all of which I have seen kill and eat small birds but which appear to be tolerated more generally than sparrowhawks or goshawks.







Steve Read

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0408 170915








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