Habitat Ecology Information

What’s Lurking In Your Backyard: #8 Grey Butcherbird

This series looks at the variety of fauna that may be found in the suburban backyard or local reserve and the diversity may be surprising to some people. The obvious fauna are the vast array of birds that are readily seen by day and some by night, but there are numerous species that are nocturnal. Some of these nocturnal species people are familiar with as they tramp across the roof at night with what sounds like hobnail boots on, or they hear fighting in the backyard over food and territory. Others are cryptic and may only be seen infrequently when they enter the house for warmth and shelter. Each week I will highlight a different species that may be found in and around Melbourne’s backyards, parks and reserves, some may be familiar others less so.

#8 Grey Butcherbird
(Cracticus torquatus)

The Grey Butcherbird gets its name from its tendency to hang uneaten food in the forks of branches or impaled on twigs in trees. It is found across a range of habitats from denser forests, suburban parklands and wooded areas across most of Australia, with the exception of drier regions of Northern Australia.

As the name suggest the Grey Butcherbird is grey in colour on the wings and back with a white underbelly and band around the neck. The head is black with dark eyes and a large beak with the tip of the upper beak hooked to aid in catching and holding food. The female’s plumage is the same as the male with the head being slightly more brown than black and she is smaller in size.

The Grey Butcherbird eats a wide variety of food from insects, fruits and seeds and small vertebrate animals such as other birds and reptiles. I have found them quite happy to roost above areas being dug over and pick the grubs from the upturned dirt. Like Kookaburras they will sit on a perch and pounce on their food if it is on the ground but will take small birds and insects whilst in flight. Although Grey Butcherbirds tend to be solitary they do form small family groups, which will feed together.

Grey Butcherbirds are nest builders with nest consisting of a sticks and twigs in bowl shape that is lined with grass and other material that is soft such as feathers etc. Nests are locate in trees and may be found within 10 metres of the ground. Laying 3-5 eggs the eggs are incubated by the female but are reared by both sexes. As with the Kookaburra the Grey Butcherbird chicks after fledging may hang around to aid in rearing the next season’s chicks before dispersing.

There are 3 other species of Butcherbird in Australia with the Pied Butcherbird also occurring in Victoria. This species is slightly larger and is black and white in colour.

© Habitat Ecology 2012