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Cracticus torquatus -Brisbane -garden fence-8.jpg
Two grey butcherbirds
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Superfamily: Malaconotoidea
Family: Artamidae


Butcherbirds are songbirds closely related to the Australian magpie. Most are found in the genus Cracticus, but the black butcherbird is placed in the monotypic genus Melloria. They are native to Australasia.


Together with three species of currawong and two species of peltops, butcherbirds and the Australian magpie form the subfamily Cracticinae in the family Artamidae. (Despite the name of the Australian magpie, this family of birds is not closely related to European magpies, which are members of the family Corvidae.)


Butcherbirds are large songbirds, being between 30 and 40 cm (12–16 in) in length. Their colour ranges from black-and-white to mostly black with added grey plumage, depending on the species. They have a large, straight bill with a distinctive hook at the end which is used to skewer prey. They have high-pitched complex songs, which are used to defend their essentially year-round group territories: unlike birds of extratropical Eurasia and the Americas, both sexes sing prolifically. [1]

Feeding and distribution

Butcherbirds are insect eaters for the most part, but will also feed on small lizards and other vertebrates. They get their name from their habit of impaling captured prey on a thorn, tree fork, or crevice. This " larder" is used to support the victim while it is being eaten, to store prey for later consumption, or to attract mates.

Butcherbirds are the ecological counterparts of the shrikes, mainly found in Eurasia and Africa, which are only distantly related, but share the "larder" habit; shrikes are also sometimes called "butcherbirds". Butcherbirds live in a variety of habitats from tropical rainforest to arid shrubland. Like many similar species, they have adapted well to urbanisation and can be found in leafy suburbs throughout Australia. They are opportunistic, showing little fear and readily taking food offerings to the point of becoming semi-tame.


Female butcherbirds lay between two and five eggs in a clutch, [2] with the larger clutch sizes in more open-country species. Except in the rainforest-dwelling hooded and black butcherbirds, [3] cooperative breeding occurs, with many individuals delaying dispersal to rear young. [4] The nest is made from twigs, high up in a fork of a tree. The young will remain with their mother until almost fully grown. They tend to trail behind their mother and "squeak" incessantly while she catches food for them.



  1. ^ Johnson Gayle; "Vocalizations in the Grey Butcherbird Cracticus torquatus with Emphasis on Structure in Male Breeding Song: Implications for the Function and Evolution of Song from a Study of a Southern Hemisphere Species"; PhD Doctorate; Griffith University, 2003
  2. ^ Jetz, Walter; Sekercioğlu, Cagan H. and Böhning-Gäse, Katrin; "The Worldwide Variation in Avian Clutch Size across Species and Space" Supplementary Material S4
  3. ^ Coates BJ (1990) The birds of Papua New Guinea including the Bismarck Archipelago and Bougainville: Volume II. Passerines. Dove Publications: Alderley, Queensland
  4. ^ Rowley, Ian (1976); "Co-operative breeding in Australian birds" in Proceedings of the 16th International Ornithological Congress. (ed. Frith HJ, Calaby JH) pp. 657-666. Australian Academy of Science: Canberra.

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