Butcherbirds are Australian magpie-like birds. 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.

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]

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.

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



20070515 0894 Black Butcher Bird

Black butcherbird with the remains of a wing in Cairns, Australia.

Butcher Bird with Rhinosaurus Beetle

Eating a rhinoceros beetle


  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.

External links


Artamidae is a family of passerine birds found in Australia, the Indo-Pacific region, and Southern Asia. It includes 24 extant species in six genera and three subfamilies: Peltopsinae (with one genus, the peltops), Artaminae (with one genus, the woodswallows) and Cracticinae (currawongs, butcherbirds and the Australian magpie). Artamids used to be monotypic, containing only the woodswallows, but it was expanded to include the family Cracticidae in 1994. Some authors, however, still treat the two as separate families. Some species in this family are known for their beautiful song. Their feeding habits vary from nectar sucking (woodswallows) to predation on small birds (pied currawong).

Australian magpie

The Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) is a medium-sized black and white passerine bird native to Australia and southern New Guinea. Although once considered to be three separate species, it is now considered to be one, with nine recognised subspecies. A member of the Artamidae, the Australian magpie is placed in its own genus Gymnorhina and is most closely related to the black butcherbird (Melloria quoyi). It is not, however, closely related to the European magpie, which is a corvid.

The adult Australian magpie is a fairly robust bird ranging from 37 to 43 cm (14.5 to 17 in) in length, with distinctive black and white plumage, gold brown eyes and a solid wedge-shaped bluish-white and black bill. The male and female are similar in appearance, and can be distinguished by differences in back markings. The male has pure white feathers on the back of the head and the female has white blending to grey feathers on the back of the head. With its long legs, the Australian magpie walks rather than waddles or hops and spends much time on the ground.

Described as one of Australia's most accomplished songbirds, the Australian magpie has an array of complex vocalisations. It is omnivorous, with the bulk of its varied diet made up of invertebrates. It is generally sedentary and territorial throughout its range. Common and widespread, it has adapted well to human habitation and is a familiar bird of parks, gardens and farmland in Australia and New Guinea. This species is commonly fed by households around the country, but in spring a small minority of breeding magpies (almost always males) become aggressive and swoop and attack those who approach their nests.

Over 1000 Australian magpies were introduced into New Zealand from 1864 to 1874 but have subsequently been accused of displacing native birds and are now treated as a pest species. Introductions also occurred in the Solomon Islands and Fiji, where the birds are not considered an invasive species. The Australian magpie is the mascot of several Australian sporting teams, most notably the Collingwood Magpies, the Western Suburbs Magpies and Port Adelaide Magpies.

Birds in music

Birds have played a role in Western Classical music since at least the 14th century, when composers such as Jean Vaillant quoted birdsong in some of their compositions. Among the birds whose song is most often used in music are the nightingale and the cuckoo.

Composers and musicians have made use of birds in their music in different ways: they can be inspired by birdsong; they can intentionally imitate bird song in a composition; they can incorporate recordings of birds into their works, as Ottorino Respighi first did; or, like the cellist Beatrice Harrison in 1924 and more recently the jazz musician David Rothenberg, they can duet with birds.

Authors including Rothenberg have claimed that birds such as the hermit thrush sing on traditional scales as used in human music, but at least one songbird, the nightingale wren, does not choose notes in this way. However, among birds which habitually borrow phrases or sounds from other species such as the starling, the way they use variations of rhythm, relationships of musical pitch, and combinations of notes can resemble music. The similar motor constraints on human and avian song may have driven these to have similar song structures, including "arch-shaped and descending melodic contours in musical phrases", long notes at the ends of phrases, and typically small differences in pitch between adjacent notes, at least in birds with a strong song structure like the Eurasian treecreeper.

Black-backed butcherbird

The black-backed butcherbird (Cracticus mentalis) is a species of bird in the family Artamidae.

It is found in southern New Guinea and Cape York Peninsula.

Black butcherbird

The black butcherbird (Melloria quoyi, also known as Cracticus quoyi) is a species of butcherbird in the family Artamidae.

It is found in Australia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forest, subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest, and subtropical or tropical mangrove forest.

Evidence was published in a 2013 molecular study which showed that it was the sister taxon to the Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen). The ancestor to the two species is thought to have split from the other butcherbirds between 8.3 and 4.2 million years ago, during the late Miocene to early Pliocene, while the two species themselves diverged sometime during the Pliocene (5.8–3.0 million years ago).

Blood Ties (1991 film)

Blood Ties is a made-for-television film that was released in 1991. It is a story about a modern vampire family who hail from Carpathia. The family try to assimilate into American life in Long Beach, California, but their lives are upset when a sinister group of hunters kill a member of their extended kin and threaten to come after them.

The film was directed by Jim McBride.

Butcherbird (album)

Butcherbird is the twentieth studio album by Australian country music artist John Williamson. It was released on 24 August 2018 and peaked at number 13 on the ARIA Albums Chart.

Topics on the album include life and love, as well as nature—written by Williamson about his bush property in Springbrook, Queensland. Williamson said: "Butcherbird is probably my most relaxed album ever... It's a very honest and reflective album and it was quite a breeze to write. Perhaps because at this stage of my career I had a "what the hell, just do it" attitude. It felt right."

Williamson said the butcherbird is his "favourite feathered singer". He said: "They have been here longer than humans, yet their melodies are remarkably fresh. They are my mates in the garden and have inspired the first track 'The Valley of His Dreams'."Williamson will support the album with a national throughout October and November 2018.

Butcherbird (disambiguation)

Butcherbirds are magpie-like birds native to Australasia.

Butcherbird may also refer to:

Butcherbird, a common name for species of shrikes that are known for their "larder" habit of impaling captured prey on thorns, which the unrelated Australian birds share

Focke-Wulf Fw 190, a German fighter aircraft of World War II nicknamed "Butcher-bird"

Butcher Bird, a 1993 novel by Dean Ing

Butcher Bird, a 2007 novel by Richard Kadrey

Butcherbird (album), a 2018 album by John Williamson


The Cracticinae, bellmagpies and allies, gathers together 12 species of mostly crow-like birds native to Australasia and nearby areas.

Historically, the cracticines – currawongs, Australian magpie and butcherbirds – were seen as a separate family Cracticidae and, according to the 2018 Cements List, they still are. With their 1985 DNA study, Sibley and Ahlquist recognised the close relationship between the woodswallows and the butcherbirds in 1985, and placed them in a Cracticini clade, now the family Artamidae. The two species of peltops were once placed with the monarch flycatchers but are now placed here.The cracticines have large, straight bills and mostly black, white or grey plumage. All are omnivorous to some degree: the butcherbirds mostly eat meat; Australian magpies usually forage through short grass looking for worms and other small creatures; and currawongs are true omnivores, taking fruit, grain, meat, insects, eggs and nestlings. The female constructs bulky nests from sticks, and both parents help incubate the eggs and raise the young thereafter.The cracticines, despite their fairly plain, utilitarian appearance, are highly intelligent and have extraordinarily beautiful songs of great subtlety. Particularly noteworthy are the pied butcherbird, the pied currawong and the Australian magpie.


Cracticus is a genus of butcherbirds native to Australasia. They 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.

Grey butcherbird

The grey butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus) is a widely distributed species endemic to Australia. It occurs in a range of different habitats including arid, semi-arid and temperate zones. It is found across southern Australia, but is absent from the deserts of central Australia and the monsoon tropics of northern Australia. It has a characteristic "rollicking" birdsong. It appears to be adapting well to city living, and can be encountered in the suburbs of many Australian cities including Sydney and Brisbane. The grey butcherbird preys on small vertebrates including other birds.

Other birds in the same family include the Australian magpie, the currawongs, woodswallows and other members of the butcherbird genus Cracticus.

Hooded butcherbird

The hooded butcherbird (Cracticus cassicus) is a species of passerine bird in the family Artamidae. It is found in New Guinea.

Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest.


Kurrartapu johnnguyeni is an extinct species of bird in the Australian magpie and butcherbird family. It was described from Early Miocene material (a proximal tarsometatarsus) found at Riversleigh in north-western Queensland, Australia. It is the first Tertiary record of a cracticid from Australia. The size of the fossil material indicates that it was similar in size to the living black butcherbird. The generic name is a Kalkatungu language term for the Australian magpie. The specific epithet honours John Nguyen, the father of the senior describer.

Loggerhead shrike

The loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) is a passerine bird in the family Laniidae. It is the only member of the shrike family endemic to North America; the related northern shrike (L. borealis) occurs north of its range but also in the eastern Palearctic. It is nicknamed the butcherbird after its carnivorous tendencies, as it consumes prey such as amphibians, insects, lizards, small mammals and small birds, and some prey end up displayed and stored at a site, for example in a tree. Due to its small size and weak talons, this predatory bird relies on impaling its prey upon thorns or barbed wire for facilitated consumption. The numbers of Loggerhead shrike have significantly decreased in recent years, especially in Midwestern, New England and Mid-Atlantic areas.

Pied butcherbird

The pied butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis) is a songbird native to Australia. Described by John Gould in 1837, it is a black and white bird 28 to 32 cm (11 to 12.5 in) long with a long hooked bill. The head and throat are black, making a distinctive hood, as well as the mantle, and much of the tail and wings. The neck, underparts and outer wing feathers are white. The juvenile and immature birds are predominantly brown and white. As they mature their brown feathers are replaced by black feathers. Two subspecies are recognized.

Within its range, the pied butcherbird is generally sedentary. Common in woodlands and in urban environments, it is carnivorous, eating insects and small vertebrates including birds. A tame and inquisitive bird, the pied butcherbird has been known to accept food from humans. It nests in trees, constructing a cup-shaped structure out of sticks and laying two to five eggs. The pied butcherbird engages in cooperative breeding, with a mated pair sometimes assisted by several helper birds. The troop is territorial, defending the nesting site from intruders. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has assessed the pied butcherbird as being of least concern on account of its large range and apparently stable population.

Sibley-Monroe checklist 13

The Sibley-Monroe checklist was a landmark document in the study of birds. It drew on extensive DNA-DNA hybridisation studies to reassess the relationships between modern birds.

Silver-backed butcherbird

The silver-backed butcherbird (Cracticus argenteus) is a small, shrike-like bird. It is almost identical to the grey butcherbird (C. torquatus) of which it considered by some authorities to be a subspecies, C. torquatus argenteus.The species was first described by ornithologist John Gould in 1836 as Cracticus argenteus.

Tagula butcherbird

The Tagula butcherbird (Cracticus louisiadensis) is a species of bird in the family Artamidae.

It is endemic to Tagula Island in Papua New Guinea.

Time of the Butcherbird

Time of the Butcherbird is the final novel by South African novelist Alex La Guma. The novel was first published in 1979.

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