Grey Butcherbird

Every few days we hear the local Grey Butcherbird calling nearby. From time to time one of them will come into the garden.

Yesterday afternoon I was entertained by one individual calling regularly quite near to the house. This went on for nearly half an hour. I really enjoy hearing its rich, melodious call, especially up close like that.

The resident honeyeaters do not take the same view. Their warning calls indicate that they were upset by the presence of the butcherbird. Perhaps they have eggs or young in a nest somewhere (that I haven’t discovered yet). Grey Butcherbirds take delight in robbing a nest of either eggs or the chicks.

To learn more about this bird and to hear its lovely call, click here.

Here is a photo of a Grey Butcherbird I took some time ago.

Grey Butcherbird

Grey Butcherbird


92 Responses to “Grey Butcherbird”

  1. Alan says:

    I also love the call of the Grey Butcherbird – even more so that of the Pied Butcherbird.

  2. Trevor says:

    I agree with you Alan. The Pied Butcherbird call is absolutely amazing. Sadly we only get that species as an occasional visitor here at my home town of Murray Bridge. I have to go 50km or more north east to see one.

    Many years ago I was visiting a friend who lived on the northern outskirts of Kalgoorlie. The bush started across the road. We followed the call of a PB for over an hour until we had good sightings. It was calling all through that time and is something I will not forget. Brilliant.

  3. […] bird up there… R: Gray like a catbird? M: No R: Gray like a titmouse? M: No R: Gray like a butcherbird?!? M: Maybe.. forget it, it’s only a chickadee. ROBIN: Only a chickadee?!? What do you mean […]

  4. Larry says:

    Hi Trevor, what an interesting bird. Such a beautiful song too. I am curious, how large is this bird? It looks like it might be the size of our jays in the US.

  5. Trevor says:

    Hi there Larry. Welcome to my blog about Australian birds. Thanks for stopping by and for leaving a comment and question.

    The Grey Butcherbird measures 24 – 30 centimetres in size (10-12 inches). It is widespread but uncommon throughout most of Australia except Tasmania where it is common in some parts of its range. (Alan might like to comment on that because I’m only going by a field guide here – I have yet to visit Tassie.).

    The Pied Butcherbird is slightly larger but with a different range, though it overlaps with much of the range of the Grey.

    The Black Butcherbird is much larger (40-44cm) and is found in northern parts of coastal Queensland and the Northern Territory.

    The Black-backed Butcherbird is similar in size to the Grey but is found only in far north Queensland on the Cape York Peninsula.

  6. Leisa barry says:

    Hi… does this lovely bird attacks you if near nest?
    I was walking with daughter at park …it attacked me twice on head and face. Left a big stratch on my face. It was this sort of bird. I was shocked and amazed why this sort of lovely bird attacked me.
    I live at Edens landing Queensland. Attack happened at small park and oval at Edens Landing next to train station. I was not the only one who been attacked by this bird at that park.

    • Sandra Guy says:

      Hi Trevor, Yes, some butcherbirds do swoop when they have an active nest. There’s one in Centennial Park in the inner eastern suburbs of Sydney (between Randwick and Paddington) which only swoops men with cameras and nobody else. Magpies, likewise, often have a ‘favourite’ type of person they swoop. Only a small percentage of birds swoop and only a fraction of those ever make contact but they can cause serious injury and people have lost the sight in an injured eye. Unfortunately, most aggressive bird behaviour is triggered by people throwing objects at the bird in the first place because they mistakenly think all birds swoop; but this behaviour can turn a placid bird into a swooper.

      • M Sparks says:

        I have grey butcher bird nesting in a hanging basket of zygocactus hanging on my brickwork. Whilst there are four adults (two could be teenagers) feeding the two chicks – not one of them have swooped unless I have a camera in my hand but even so have managed to sneak a few shots. Would point out that I not a man.

  7. Trevor says:

    Hi there Leisa – thanks for stopping by and sharing your experiences of Australian birds.

    I have never heard of Butcherbirds attacking people so your observation is quite interesting. It sent me to my reference books and your experience is not uncommon – they do swoop and attack people. So I have learned something new – thank you. I doesn’t surprise me as they are closely related to the notorious Australian Magpie. Except they are smaller. There was probably a nest somewhere nearby.

    They obviously can do some damage – as you painfully found out. I hope the wound heals quickly and that there has been no infection.

    Now that I think about it – I too have been “swooped” by a butcherbird. I was having a relaxing lunch by Lake Hattah in NW Victoria some years ago. We were enjoying some of the produce of the Ouyen Bakery. A Grey Butcherbird sat on the branch nearby keeping a keen eye on my lunch. I turned my head ever so slightly and it swooped down and took my lovely sandwich out of my hand. Gave me the fright of my life.

  8. Marnie says:

    At the moment our resident grey butchies are feeding two chicks. They come and sing in the front garden asking to be fed. It took us a little time to realise there were two chicks – we couldn’t understand how one baby was consuming its own body weight in mince ๐Ÿ™‚ Interestingly most of the feeding is done by the male – the female is much more timid and tends to hide in the malus while the male sits on the gutter or fence post or overhead wires and expects the morsels to be delivered at regular intervals. They are very delightful and are not in the least fazed by the magpies and their babies who also come in to be fed. All this within 14kms of the Melbourne CBD.

  9. Michael says:

    I’ve just watched a grey butcher bird butchering a large mouse.
    What was most impressive was that, after bringing down the mouse and knocking it about a bit the bird tried to fly off with it. Since the mouse was about the same size as the bird, I though it had no hope. To my surprise the bird dragged the mouse up one of our small trees to a branch, managed to flap over to the handlebars of my bicycle, then (just as I was setting up my camera) launched into a gust and took flight with mouse in beak. Very impressive.

  10. georgia says:

    it has alot of infomation about the Grey bucherbird

  11. georgia says:

    i love sam my bucherbird

  12. Kelly Kinsella says:

    Hi, I have heard that butcher birds attack other birds nests. Is this true?

  13. Trevor says:

    Hi there Kelly.

    Yes – you are correct, but it’s not the nest they are attacking, but rather what is in the nest. They will eat the young nestlings of other birds. On the whole however, they are mainly insectivorous. They will also eat small lizards and chase, catch and eat small birds.

    If what they catch is too large to swallow, they will impale their prey on a thorn or twig and use that to hold their food while they tear away smaller bits to eat. Sometimes they might be disturbed and leave a bit behind on the twig. This could have given them their name because it looks like they’ve hung up some meat like a butcher.

  14. John M says:

    We live about 80km south of Perth on 4 acres. We have had magpies and grey butcherbirds around for quite a few years. We feed them with cubes of dog sausage sometimes twice a day, usually once.
    The maggies nested in a tree about 2m above where I walk to the shed. I put out dry cat food and rolled oats for the youngsters and not once did they even look like swooping on us. Just watched us walk below them. So they do react to kindness !! We even had one “Nigel” who would walk into the house. Did not see him for 2 years and then he returned on my wife’s birthday, April this year. She was delighted !!!
    The butcherbirds were treated in a similar manner, one year I had two eating from my hand, but that has not been repeated as they disappeared for a year or two. They are back now (fed them 5 minutes ago)but still a bit shy. We love their song.

  15. Trevor says:

    Hi there John – welcome to my blog about Australian birds.

    We have no troubles with our resident magpies either. Only one swoop in 25 years – and that was my fault – I tried to imitate the call of one magpie and I must have used a swear word (or its equivalent). They can be endearing birds indeed.

    The local Butcherbirds are occasional visitors to our 5 acre ‘garden’ (mostly mallee scrub). I love hearing their beautiful calls echoing through the scrub.

    Most experts discourage feeding birds as they can become dependent on that food and if you leave, go on holiday, for example, they can be in strife. The food humans provide can also provide a very unbalanced diet. Occasional feeding is okay, but certainly not daily is the general consensus.

    Providing water is a far better method of attracting and keeping birds in your garden. Again, let the water dry up from time to time so they don’t become totally dependent on it.

    Enjoy your birds.

  16. Donna says:

    I just read the last post and you answered my question about feeding. I’ve been hand feeding the butchers and magpies for a while now and was growing concerned about their dependability on me. I’ll now taper off the feeding so they become independent again. Shame though as they bring an enormous amount of joy with them. They’re excellent communicators too and love to have a chat when they drop in!

  17. phillipa says:

    We have a large deck at the back of our house where I have hanging baskets. A couple of grey butcherbirds have been regularily visiting us over the last few months. One has decided to nest in one of the baskets. She set up a nest a couple of weeks ago and we noticed this morning she’s laid an egg. My daughter is very excited. Our visiting bird seems quite undisturbed by us sharing the deck space. We sit down one end whilst she sits happily on her nest down the other end. I’m just wondering how our visitor will go once the baby(s) arrive.

  18. Trevor says:

    Hi Phillipa – this comment was forwarded by John to me via email:

    Hi Phillipa, Well, that is truly wonderful. I am always amazed at the contact we are sometimes fortunate enough to have with our “wild” life.
    Some time ago I had a butcher bird eating from my hand (with a slow, cautious approach) and also a magpie that nested above our walkway.
    So going on this limited experience, may I offer a suggestion or two. No sudden movements and talk to them. Every morning, put out a plate with some (raw) rolled oats and a bit of dry cat food, that is for the youngsters. Thay will love you for it.
    Best of luck and keep us posted.

  19. Tegan says:

    Hi, we have been trying to identify a bird that is nesting in the park just near our house that we walk through everyday. For the past month or so it has been regurally swooping and diving at us. This morning it got my brothers head and caused a great deal of bleeding. From looking at photographs it seems it is a grey butcherbird. We are in eastern suburbs of victoria. Might need to resort to umbrellas when walking through the park now!

  20. Trevor says:

    Yes Tegan – they are known to swoop people – they are probably nesting somewhere nearby and just trying to protect the young.

    The butcherbirds are usually not as aggressive as their bigger cousins the magpies. Magpies and butcherbirds are very closely related which explains this behaviour. The little hook on the end of the beak is what can cause injuries.

    I hope your brother recovers quickly.

  21. Duncan says:

    Hello Trevor, I’ve lived in the same block of units for 10 years. We live across from a park which is full of magpies and have never had any problem with the magpies swooping. For the last few weeks though I have been terrorised by very aggressive butcherbirds which seem to be nesting nearby and attack me as soon as I go out the front door on my bike or arrive home. It’s the first time I’ve had this experience and its very unnerving, stressful and annoying. Does anyone know how long I will have to put up with this for? Thanks.

  22. Trevor says:

    Hi Duncan,

    Thanks for stopping by. Magpies and butcherbirds have very bad reputations for swooping people – especially those on bicycles for some reason. Can you dismount down the street a little and walk the bike home the last hundred metres or so? Might be worth a try.

    As you probably know they see you as a threat to their young in the nest. Once the young fledge (fly) the problem should be solved. They will leave the nest in 21-28 days after hatching.

  23. Tegan says:

    Hi Duncan, I posted on this thread in mid sept after my brother got wounded by a swooping butcherbird in a park that my family walks through twice daily. i would say we had to put up with the swooping for about a month and a half. i found that if i could stare at the birds and face them they were less likely to swoop, also we tried holding an umbrella over our heads or swinging a bag around over our heads for protection.

  24. Duncan says:

    Thanks Tegan. Luckily so far I’ve managed to avoid being wounded but they go at you so aggressively I’m not at all surprised to hear about the experience regarding your brother. I’ll be counting the days until they settle down and I can safely and without any anxiety enjoy the great outdoors! Cheers.

  25. Tegan says:

    Good luck Duncan. I think my brother was the one who was wounded as he is so tall and probably posed more of a threat to them!

  26. Melissa says:


    For many years we’ve had a family of 5 (now 6) Pied Butcherbirds living in and around our yard.
    We love having them around and do give them mince.

    They have a baby which left the nest about 2 weeks ago.
    At least 1 of the butchies are feeding the baby but 2 are attacking it. We have seen them doing this on several occasions and now it has a large bald patch on the back of its head.

    Does anyone know why would they attack their own family member, especially a baby?

    We are worried for the baby.

  27. Trevor says:

    Hi there Melissa,

    Thanks for stopping by and for leaving a question.

    I’ve not seen this behaviour in butcherbirds before and can find no mention of it in my reference books, so I’m a little at a loss as to what is happening. (This lack of information merely indicates that the species has not been extensively studied yet).

    You say you have a family of 6 in your yard. Only two of these would be the parents, the others are probably their offspring from previous broods. These “helpers” are juveniles which will assist in feeding the newest brood. They will probably leave before the next breeding season and established their own territories.

    The 2 attackers are still immature and probably see the newly fledged bird as a threat to their food supply – or the pecking order in the family. In human terms it’s sibling rivalry, I guess.

    There is probably little you can do about it. If the baby is attacked so much it dies, the next brood should have better success as these “bullies” will probably have left home by then.

    Depending on the season, the parents may have another brood over summer.

    Keep me posted, please, as this is interesting.

  28. Melissa says:

    Hi Trevor

    Thankyou for your reply.

    You are right, 2 of the birds are the parents and the 3 others are the offspring. 1 was born about 4 years ago and the other 2 about 2 years ago. Then there is the baby.

    It has been 2 weeks today since we have spotted him. There are a lot of trees in the area plus a large paddock and a river with more trees across the road and a park nearby, so he could still be around. At least we hope so.

    In the days leading up to his ‘disapperance’, we spotted him in and around our yard a fair bit but before that we hadn’t seen him for at least a week. We did notice his mother was close by at all times which was good but he was still being harassed sometimes.

    We still see the other 5 on a daily basis.

    We haven’t given up hope off seeing him again and will let you know if puts in an appearance.


  29. Trevor says:

    Thanks for the update Melissa.

  30. Cathy says:

    We have had a great deal of fun with an immature grey butcherbird (Butchy)that suddenly arrived on our doostep on its own in Jan 2010. It joined in with the magpie family of 5, myners and honey eaters. Butchy eats light cheese and dog pellets fed in small amounts 3 times a day!! He sings loudly and wakes us up outside our bedroom window. We watch him play with the “hanging toys” that we have put around the veranda for him. He never ceases to delight us. He flew into our office twice and landed on the computer screen. He came through the door into our bedroom but took flight when I rushed to switch the ceiling fan off. He sits on the cars and tractors and follows us around. He waits in anticipation a few inches away whilst I am gardening waiting for worms and grubs to be fed to him!! Nothing scares him. Even the loud noise of the tractors and hammering seem to attract his attention and he pitches up to observe what’s going on!

    One day, recently, an adult male grey butcherbird came looking for him and kept dive-bombing him. When I shooed the adult away he did make a swoop on me, once. I figured it was his father or an interested male. Still Butchy hung around us until 3 days ago when he never came in for his snacks! My husband and I were so upset and we kept calling his name. Today whilst sitting in HIS favourite chair, hoping he would come back, I looked up and there he was in the palm tree. I rushed inside the house to get a morsel and as I sat down he landed on my lap as usual and ate his mince. We were so delighted to see him back.

    My husband has spotted him today with an adult butcherbird who are singing to each other. Maybe it’s Butchy’s Dad taking him back to his territory to help the family as it is getting close to winter and breeding time. Or maybe he has found his/her partner in life!

    We hope he will keep coming in to visit but will take the advice from others and stop feeding him. Although, there is no shortage of insects around and I don’t believe he will starve if we go away. We have watched him catching moths and lawn grubs. However, we have found a few dead birds in the tree forks aound the house (2 rainbow lorikeets and 2 pale headed rosellas) so it is probably a good thing that the grey butcherbirds move a little further away! We were not sure if it was the magpies dealing with invaders but from the comments above, wenow know it must be one of the BBirds! It will be very interesting to see if he continues his/her friendship with us once we stop feeding him-if we can get ourselves to do that.

    Immature Grey Butcherbirds are the most fascinating and entertaining birds, highly intelligent and brave. However,we will take care when walking in their territory during breeding season! Thanks for all the info and advice! Many of our q’s have been answered on this site. Well done!

  31. Trevor says:

    Hi there Cathy,

    Thanks for sharing your fascinating insights into this wonderful bird species. It must be a wonderful delight to have a wild bird as an important part of your life.

  32. Linda Arnold says:

    Hello everyone,
    This is the first time I have visited this blog and have done so because of an experience yesterday feeding a ?young grey butcherbird. He sat on a fence in our backyard completely ignoring our barking dog intent on driving him away. Occasionaly I give a little mince to the kookaburra’s and I decided to see if he would like some. I intended to leave some a few feet away from him but to my surprise he flew straight to me and started screaming and opening his mouth to have the mince hand fed to him.
    I don’t know if he will come back – I’ve never noticed him in the garden before and am concerned for the finches – but he was so much fun!

  33. Trevor says:

    John left this comment via the contact form:

    Hi Linda and all others,

    We have been having an enjoyable time with a pair of “Butchies” for a couple of months now. They come to the back patio area sometimes several times a day, and we feed them small squares of dog sausage……. just one each !! We sometimes have to have them compete with the magpies (their dry food is at the other side of the house) and our new cat. I am sure that they play with each other !
    Yeah, new cat almost 6 months old as our old cat “Figaro” had to be put down after 17 years….sad time.
    But the butchies stay just out of reach and I have seen them looking at each other from just a few feet apart. Interesting !!

  34. david says:

    Hi Trevor, Un-fortunately I do not share the affection others have for the butcher bird,perhaps if they get their ears or head damaged they too might have a change of mind . Lots of many maligned magpies accept humans and do not attack during nesting time, the same can’t be said for butcher birds.But as they have been doing this in Australia for a few thousand years, I am prepared to put up with it,and definitely admire them for not being prepared to change

  35. Trevor says:

    Good points David. I once had a butcherbird snatch a sandwich out of my hand just as I was about to take a bite. Even though I was aware of it sitting quietly in a nearby tree watching our picnic lunch being prepared, it still gave me an almighty fright when it flew past inches from my nose and headed off with my lunch.

  36. Ailsa says:

    I am being held hostage in my own home – HELP! I am being swooped on by a butcher bird – when hanging out the washing, collecting the mail etc. – it is totally unprovoked. My main concern is my grandchildren when they visit as we like to spend time outdoors and I do not feel like keeping them indoors – even if it is only for 6 weeks per year. We have always had butcher birds here and this has only happened this year. It is too late when some permanent damage has been done to a child’s eye. Is this a ‘rogue’ bird and what can I do to have it removed so that I can enjoy my own yard in safety.

  37. John says:

    Well, as quickly as they arrived, the pair of butchies have taken off to greener pastures, perhaps. I occasionally hear them (it) down the back of our 4 acre place but no sightings. Possibly nesting ?? Not too worried as I reckon they will be back when they are ready.
    A quick comment, over the 15 years we have been here, I have counted over 50 varieties of birds. Some were only here briefly, but they were at my place, so they were counted !!

  38. Trevor says:

    Hi there Ailsa,

    Sorry about the delay in replying. Unfortunately there is very little you can do except wear protective broad brimmed hats when outside until the breeding season is over.

    If the problem persists all I can suggest is to contact your local council or parks and wildlife people for advice.

  39. Trevor says:

    Hi John,

    You didn’t mention where you live. In most places 50 species of birds is a modest figure if you live in a rural setting (like we do with 110 species in rural SA) but in a city environment you’d be blessed if you only had 25 species, most of which are introduced or pest species or both.

  40. Tina says:

    Dear Trevor,
    Just a quick question. My girls and I are currently caring for a bird picked up in the school yard here in Canowindra NSW. We were wondering if you have ever come across a butcher bird that is extremely light in colour? The bird we have is white, cream and light tan.
    Thanks Tina.

  41. Tony says:


    Over the last maybe 8 months me and my family somehow manage to make friends with the family of pied butcherbirds living around our area here in a semi-rural suburb called Pallara, Queensland.

    One butcherbird in particular had a distinctive bald spot on its head that made him/her instantly recognizable… my guess is that it was very alpha (and it acted like it was) and probably got that battle scar during some kind of bird war ๐Ÿ˜€

    When I open the front door, the whole family would fly over and land on top of the roof waiting for a feed. But the Alpha one would actually land in front of me within a metre or so… it was the most courageous so it was the first to get fed. They have incredible pinpoint accuracy and control of their beaks… any piece of bread tossed upwards would not return to the ground.

    One day, after a week of heavy rain, the Alpha PB came back and its back toe was snapped forwards and bleeding, making it unable to use that foot and it had to hop around with one foot. Over time it healed.

    My mum sorta named the bird “Crippy” (or Crip, not sure how to translate the Vietnamese exactly)… and so everyone (except my brother who hated the name) eventually called him/her Crippy.

    After some more months, everyday, except when it rained heavily, the family of 4 or 5 PBs would come over either in the front of the house, or the back. Crippy in particular would sometimes stand just outside either the front door or the back door making “I’m hungry, feed me” noises.

    A funny story: I was in the garage and I caught a big, orange, colourfullooking moth. I had my bluetooth headset on listening to streaming music so I couldn’t hear anything. I walked outside the garage holding the moth close to my face and was just looking/examinating it. All the sudden, it got snatched out of my hands. Slightly shocked, I looked up and realised that it was Crippy who snatched it. I was like “Hey, I was using that!” :D. He went on the roof with the stolen goods and gobbled it in one go. I realise now why these birds are called BUTCHERbirds.. its because they just rip and annihilate small creature that’s within their foodchain. When I catch live huntsman spiders, and present it to Crippy for sacrific, he would know EXACTLY where to bite to kill it instantly. Total insect killing machines.

    Crippy and Oily (another alpha PB from a different clan I think. He had a small patch of used engine oil on his chest… therefore Oily) would eventually get so acquainted with us that they would land on our knees while we’re sitting down on the milk crate outside our house eating food, and of course they get first dibs (gotta love those super versatile milk crates :D).
    I would have a bit of fun and hold the food in between the two, and they would battle it out… almost like a cockfight.

    About a week ago however, Crippy stopped coming over to our house like he used to. There was never a day except during heavy rains that we would not see Crippy. It’s been a week and we haven’t seen him since. We really miss him. I hope he’s ok. If not, Rest In Peace little brother.

    Unless… the other theory I have is that Crippy is actually a girl and she has to keep the eggs warm until they hatch. We used to have Geese, and they would lay their eggs and sit over them for days or weeks… and not eat or drink anything during nesting… even though most of the eggs are duds and only 1 in 5 eggs would actually hatch.

    Would anyone be able to verify that this might be the case with Crippy? Crippy had a very very alpha personality, like it would hog the food… could it have been female? I hope Crippy comes back, cause we really miss him, or her.


  42. Grant says:

    Hi,I live in narwee nsw and have been hand feeding a pair of grey butcher birds and there offspring for about three years.I dont know which is the male and female but one is much more brazen than the other.My wife and i love the way they come a couple of times a day bringing there beautiful songs with them.I have been able to mimick there wistles and can call them like you would a dog.Within ten seconds they are there. I have seen several of there families hatch,hang around,then fly the coup. But recently i have noticed one of the parents attacking one of its young to much distress.What do you think is the reason.I wish i could stop it but i suppose thats nature,it can be cruel.We also have two magpies who come and bring there offspring for about three years as well.I was never a bird lover until these birds adopted me and think its great the interaction you can have and look forward to there visits. Thanks.Grant.

  43. Trevor says:

    Hi there Grant,

    Thanks for visiting and for sharing your love of our birds. Butcherbirds and their wonderful songs would have to be one of my favourites. There is no way of telling the male and female apart, but I’d guess that the dominant one is the male. As for one attacking the young, this is possibly the dominant male trying to get the juvenile to leave his territory and establish his own territory elsewhere.

  44. Trevor says:

    Hi there Tina,

    Sorry – I didn’t answer your question.

    Leucism is relatively common in birds and some animals. You can read all about it here:

  45. Beau says:

    I have a flock of various wild uncaged birds here that I’ve been feeding over the last 10 years. I have several pied butcher birds. They are all adults, with no trace of their juvenile feathers, except one. These is one that’s a few years old that still has slightly brown semicircles on his breast towards the bottom. I don’t think I’ve ever known any butcher birds to keep a trace of their juvenile feathers for that long. Not sure if those feathers will ever grow out. But maybe most of the butcher birds I’ve watched grow up over the years here have either found new territory or died.

    Anyway, this bird would have to be the smartest of the bunch. Late last year, this one discovered that if it sings for me, it gets food. Even more impressive is that if I mimic a part of one of it’s calls, it will complete the call, and thus get rewarded with food. It’s quite a special experience.

    This bird is also the most domesticated of them all, occasionally perching on my shoulder or back, although it still seems to feel a bit umcomfortable being so close to my face when perched on my shoulder, as indicated by it leaning away from my face.

    Over the last few days, though, I have noticed that this pied butcher bird can be aggressive, seemingly at random during feeding. Yesterday it gave me quite a good clip above my left eyebrow when attacking from behind. I had my jumper hood on at the time. Today it gave me a clip on my left ear while not wearing my hood. In both instances the bird had already received some food during feeding time, and I was still dishing it out. I have had only a few bouts of aggression from pied butcher birds over the times that I’ve fed them, and my response has always been to scare the offender and chase it away immediately, shaking the tree it flees too, and not giving it any further food.

    I am now on alert, to the sound of a butcher birds wings approaching me at a high rate of speed, so that perhaps I may raise my arm and give it a whack with sufficient force that the bird will learn not to do that again.

    I also noticed one of my butcher birds, perhaps a different one acting hostile to my spangled drongo yesterday while it was enjoying a pinky nail sized portion of mince. The butcher bird gave up chase from 10 metres away, and continued to pursue the bird. The pied butcher bird had nothing at the time. Jealousy perhaps?

    Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not interested in retaliation, but I’m interested in restoring the previous harmony we had.

    What disturbs me more is that today, when a noisy miner, in typical bully like behaviour chased away my spangled drongo, other noisy joined in as anticipated, but also about 4 of my pied butcher birds also joined in. They managed to knock him out of the air and proceeded to attack him before I chased them away. I’ve never seen aggression from pied butcher birds towards a spangled drongo in the few years I’ve had him for the Winter.

    Interestingly, the spangled drongo could see it coming, having stopped feeding and focusing elsewhere. Usually, though, the noisy miner would not attack when I am with the spangled drongo.

    My question is, to the best of your knowledge, what is the best response to aggression like this from a pied butcher bird? I hope I have provided sufficient detail to be of use.

    I also hope that I’ve provided some interesting insight into the behaviour of these birds.

  46. Beau says:

    I think I may be forgetting the age old advice of preventing aggressive behavior towards yourself by wearing protective clothing, and a hat. I’ll definitely try that tomorrow.

    I wonder if the interruption in the birds normal behaviour by wearing a hat may stop the aggression towards me by that bird altogether after a week, or just while I’m wearing the hat.

    Also, as far as I know, there’s no nest nearby, as there are no trees nearby the house, which is the feeding area.

  47. food scientist says:

    If you are feeding any carnivorous birds such as magpies or kookaburras use a supermarket canned dog or cat food with no added cereals such as Pal or Whiskas. It has a proper balance of protein and fat and has added vitamins and minerals.

    NEVER feed any carnivorous bird with any grain based food. It severely upsets their digestive systems and prevents normal mineral absorption.

    NEVER use dried cat or dog food. It is extremely high in salt which is causes excessive thirst, watery diarrhoea and mineral imbalances. Salt is extremely dangerous to chicks. Dried pet food is cereal based and causes severe gut upsets.

    NEVER feed birds on mince. It is a completely inadequate food. It contains far too much protein and too little fat. Mince is deficient in many important vitamins and minerals. Regular feeding with mince will cause severe problems such as calcium deficiency and thin-shelled eggs.

    Pet mince often has high levels of sulphur dioxide. It can cause fatal vitamin B6 deficiencies.

    • Trevor says:

      Thanks for your common sense advice to the often vexed question of feeding birds.

      Can I quote the above comments in a new article about feeding birds? (And do you still wish to stay behind a pseudonym – or use your real name?)

  48. Pascal says:

    I was wondering if somebody knows if butcher birds attack lorikeets.

    I have an olive scaly breasted lorikeet which is about 12 months old. His wings are clipped so he is used to wonder around the garden most time of the day when we are home and having a great time. This morning, I put him on his favorite tree on a branch about 2 meters high where he enjoys sitting and squak to his hearts content.

    I was inside and couldn’t hear him anymore so went outside to check. He was sitting put on the ground (must have fallen off the tree) and a butcher bird was next to him about 50 cm.

    Whilst I didn’t see the attack my lorikeet was very frightened and didn’t move for about 10 minutes. I thought he was injured as he was just sitting there and his eyes slowly closing and his head hanging.

    Now an hour later he’s all happy again, thank god!!

    Has anybody have similar experiences with butcher birds and lorikeets?


  49. Jan says:

    we have magpies and pied butcherbirds who adopted us a year ago. Some we could hand feed from day 1, their personality from the start hasn’t changed in terms of how we can feed them. Our magpie breeding pair used to sit on our knee and sing to be fed, their juvenile used to sit on my daughters back as she lay in the sun to read! They all seemed to think it was perfectly natural. This juvenile left home in July, replaced by another female baby in October. Unfortunately mummy maggie was lost somehow a week or so after the new baby left the nest. Daddy maggie found a new mate, who bought another female with her (sister, prev baby?), and they bred and we now have two more female babies, a couple of weeks out of the nest. The problem is – the first baby is scared of her stepmum and the other female, and twice I have seen the first baby on her back being pecked at by the other female. This morning, it was right in front of me! I hate to see this little girl being mistreated, mummy maggie had a beautiful personality and the new stepmum and her female friend, while we can handfeed them, seem quite young, esp the other female. Can I do anything? Our pied butcherbirds have lost this year’s gorgeous little baby, we had heavy rain when he was a couple of weeks out of the nest, and never saw him after that. I would hate to lose another of our ‘babies’! I have never been a ‘bird’ person but boy our feathered visitors have certainly melted our hearts!

  50. Jan says:

    sorry should have posted this to the magpie section.

  51. Amalee says:

    We have a family of butcherbirds living near our place and they sing to each other when the sun rises, such a beautiful tune to listen to than the clanging of an alarm clock. It surprised me how opportunistic these birds are. I have a mum butcherbird (who I just call “mum”) who comes with her baby onto my back balcony and “mum” will stand outside my screen door and not move even when I come to the door. I have to admit butcherbirds have gorgeous babies. They are so cute, all fluffy. One time “mum” brought me a present to my back door of a headless lizard and left it on my doormat. Thanks mum!

    I also love the clucking sound the birds make when they have a piece of food and don’t want to share it with other family members. Although our resident baby girl magpie doesn’t seem phased by it and will take on a butcherbird to get its’ food for herself. She’s a bossy little thing for her young age and usually gets her way in the end and the butcherbird will have to find another lizard to eat!

  52. Agatha says:

    I have just witnessed a very barbaric attack in our backyard, Berwick, Victoria. An adult butcherbird attacked a younger bird which I assume is a butcherbird also, stabbing it repeatedly in the neck. I went outside to intervene and I had trouble shooing the butcherbird away. I placed the young bird in a shoebox to protect it and I could see it was dying. There were lots of feathers pulled out on the ground and the adult butcherbird sat a few metres away watching the whole time, seemingly unafraid of humans. My young daughters watched the attack and were very upset. I have tried to research this breed online but have found no information as to why this bird would behave this way. I have the younger bird photographed.

  53. Frank Searson says:


    We have had a butcher bird around our house for something like 20 years. I am assuming it is the same bird as it sits on the same spot each day and whistles until we feed it some mince. It is such a fussy eater too – most unusual – as it will pick up the smaller morsels first, leaving the larger portion until last when it fills it’s beak and flies off into one of the large gumtrees. Can anyone tell me the life span of a grey butcher bird

  54. anh nguyen says:

    I saved a pied butcher bird when I saw she was attacked by other two butchies. I dont know what happaned but after saving her, I let her rest in the house for a couple hours. The other two were waiting outside. Once the attacked one came out, they attacked again, kept aiming to her eyes. I saved her again but I didnt dare to let her outside. I decided to keep her until she is fully recovery. Could you please tell me why butchies attack each other? And what should I do to save the attacked one?

  55. joe says:

    lol funny story which led me to your blog,
    i was just listening to my uncle and mum, and they were telling me about this bird, which sings rather beautifully, but unfortunately has been terrorising them while they were out and about at their farm in san remo, near phillip island, in victoria,
    thank you for the information on your site, we have established they are a couple grey butcherbird possibly nesting near by
    as i said they have been terrorized by the birds to a degree actually mum was saying it would fly straight into her from behind and knock her on the head everytime shes in the garden doing some work, and also there is no other birds left in the area
    thanks i thought i share….

    • Trevor says:

      Hi Joe,
      Sorry about the delay in replying.
      I enjoyed reading the story about the annoying butcherbirds your mum is having to deal with. I hope that she has not been injured in any way. I think that there may be a number of things happening here. The song of most birds is establishing and maintaining its territory. I am not surprised that many other birds have flown; butcherbirds have been given that name for a reason. They can be very aggressive towards other birds, especially smaller bird species. They rob their nests of eggs, nestlings and fledglings.
      They are also closely related to magpies and we know how aggressive they can be, swooping everyone and everything in sight during nesting time. In reality, magpies have been given a bad reputation by a small percentage of birds. Most male magpies are peaceful and tolerate close human interaction (our magpies have never swooped us in 31 years, and we spend a lot of time outside on our 5 acres). Only the odd magpie has a very protective streak. I suspect the butcherbirds swooping your mum are only being ultra protective.

  56. Kerry says:


    In relation to the grey butcherbird. I have had a family of 5 visit me for at least a year now… (2 adults) and 3 young. The young are now at juvenile status… I’ve been seeing them most days for a year but last few days nothing… I’m concerned about them although they are pretty savvy with the local cats and quite cautious but I find it very odd to suddenly not see them at all. Adults are still visiting. I assume they eventually do have to leave the territory but does it happen so suddenly and how far do they usually go? Any feedback greatly appreciated… I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to them! Lol

  57. linda says:

    Hi we live on a large property 100 acres most of which is natural forest. Recently we have had a butcher bird (and partner) hanging around. they are highly opporunistic acting like they are almost your pet to get food (we dont feed or encourage them). since the bird has been here the numerous finches, honey eaters and other small birds have stopped coming. Do they move on? we dont want to encourage them to stay as we want the amazing variety of bird life to return.

    • Trevor says:

      Hi Linda, Some of our larger birds, such as the magpies, ravens, currawongs and butcherbirds can be quite aggressive towards the smaller species. In the case of the butcherbirds around our home, they tend to come and go, only visiting occasionally, so I am assuming that their home range is quite large. Let’s hope that the birds near your home are also transient and do not hang around to bother the smaller birds. Other than that, there is very little I can suggest to solve the problem.

  58. Susan says:

    I have a question re the behaviour of the many grey butcher birds we have in our Queensland garden. They nestle into the mulch in the garden beds, spreading out their wings and tail. Their beaks are wide open. The first time we saw one we thought it was dead! This is a very common sight for us, but we are curious about why they are doing this. Susan

  59. Phil says:

    Have been feeding two butcherbirds for sometime now, and now the second time for their young too. One is friendly, and dominant, and I thought it would be the female.

    When one first came to me, it was when I fed kookas, it tailed in for leftovers. One day it brought with it a shy mostly green/grey buddy which I now believe to be one of it’s offspring, that has matured, and mates with.

    I get cranky with it’s early morning demands for food waking me up, so they now know not to bother me of a morning. Still love the things and they always sing a song when they see me. So I’ll have to see about feeding them Pal or Whiskas if mince is no good,, as mentioned above.

  60. Liz smith says:

    Why would the butcher birds keep harassing an owl which perches during the day in my friend’s garden? Could they be nesting nearby? Do you think they would actually attack it?johno@bigpond

  61. Trevor says:

    Hi Liz,

    This is quite common behaviour by a wide range of species. I have seen honeyeaters, Willie Wagtails, magpies and ravens giving owls and other birds of prey (e.g. hawks, eagles) a really hard time. This is just normal behaviour, but it is possible that the butcherbird is nesting nearby and sees it as a threat to its young. Butcherbirds nest from July to January according to one field guide I consulted.

  62. Phil says:

    The two I mentioned last year still come to me everyday. Had to train them to only come once only in the late afternoon. They had three chics and one of these hung around, didn’t leave the roost so to say. I believe it is a male that the adult male would attack. Eventually it turned on the adult and did the same, so much so that the adult stood aside. So I then fed it much less and never first. The adult cottoned on to what I was doing and again started to attack it back. Only in the last few days has the young one got the message and seems to have left the roost. They are such an intelligent bird, can’t help but love them.

  63. Sue says:

    Best part of my day observing the habits of my family grey butcherbirds 4 or 5 who use my balcony on the river in Bne 8 ks from CBD as an extension of their tree habitat.The dominant confident BB has befriended me.Can hand feed it and it will respond with birdsong to human chatting.It is amusing to see it ignore the juvenile crying for food now to teach it to feed itself.(which it does as soon as parent flies off )Now I know that 1 of family is “sunning “which was how I got into this website to try to explain its behaviour.Also lots clucking at times now explained.Love the daily theatre.

  64. Phil says:

    Seems I am stuck with my two for the rest of their lives, still come every afternoon unless it is too windy and they can’t get a foothold ๐Ÿ™‚

  65. Phil says:

    I am near the Kuring-gai National Park, Sydney.

    • Trevor says:

      Hi Phil, I love that park and have visited it many times when staying with my son and his family in Artarmon. My wife and I also regularly visited the Ku-ring-gai Wildflower gardens on Mona Vale Road. I have written a number of articles on this site about the birds and flowers seen in the gardens. (You can readily access them by using the search facility at the top of each page – but type in Ku-ring-gai otherwise it will return a blank result.)

  66. Phil says:

    Again the pair of butcherbird’s have chics and are nearing time to leave the roost. Every day they have come for their late afternoon snack but sadly the female mother did not appear. The male called to her but no appearance. It’s been about four or so days now and either she maybe has had enough, got struck by lightning or killed by a goanna or even a pack of noisy miners. The male still calls for her. He always fed himself before the chics but now he is flat out attending to their needs like I have never seen before. I am helping out by now offering food each morning. Shame she is gone, her being my favourite as she always let me hand feed.

    • Trevor says:

      Hi Phil, It is always sad to think that a native bird has not survived, whatever the reason. Of course, the way of nature can sometimes be brutal and distressing to us. In the situation you have witnessed, the male may find another mate next breeding season, or another pair may take over his territory. I hope it turns out fine in the end.

  67. Phil says:

    Interestingly,this morning, I heard response calls to his calls but didn’t see the other bird. I doubt any of the young could make the sound with such clarity! Yesterday he ceased feeding the young ones. Two of the chicks can now pick up food but the one, that clings to him, cries for a feed but he just ignores it. I stopped offering him any morsels of food. This might assist the young one to learn to hunt with his lead, not sure though. He wasn’t happy with me.

  68. Phil says:

    What a racket! Think he has found a mate and she looks very young and brown.

  69. Lynette says:

    Hi, we are curious to know what happened to the butcher birds babies. Hatched a few days ago and found them gone yesterday. Did something eat them perhaps. The nest is on our decking area on the top of our huge sun umbrella.


    • Trevor says:

      Hi Lynette,
      Sadly, I think that the babies have been breakfast for another bird or its family. The success rate for many species is quite low and for this reason, many of our smaller birds breed multiple times a season. The likely culprits are magpies, ravens or crows, currawongs, hawks and even cats. I hope that the butcherbirds in your garden decide to breed again soon.

  70. Marie Broad says:

    We have grey butcherbirds who have adopted our place, and have been coming in for some years.
    Iโ€™m just wondering if you can give me some idea of their lifespan please.
    Many thanks

    • Trevor says:

      Hi Marie,
      Sorry about the delay in replying.
      According to the Handbook of Australian New Zealand and Antarctic Birds (HANZAB) Vol 7, there have only been a handful of longevity studies of this species. While one banded bird was caught again over 18 years later (NW Sydney), this is unusual. Most birds recovered after being banded were from 3 to 5 years old. If the conditions are right (eg a reliable food source) butcherbirds might survive up to 10 years of age – but that is just my opinion. I also checked the entries for the other butcherbird species and they show similar results.

  71. Leni says:

    Not sure if this blog is still active, but here goes anyway. Wet have had a pair of butcherbirds that came to visit the bird bath every day for months. For a few weeks now, I haven’t seen them. Is it possible that our many resident red wattle birds have chased them off? They are extremely busy with chasing every bird large or small that comes near their trees. We are in the Rockingham area in WA

    • Trevor says:

      Hi Leni,
      Thanks for visiting my birding site. I haven’t been very active on here in recent months due to not being all that well. The Red wattlebirds can be very aggressive towards all other bird species, not just the smaller birds. In my little patch of mallee scrub here in Murray Bridge (80km SE of Adelaide) they dominate all other species. That is particularly so at this time of the year when they are nesting. As for the butcherbirds, they may have been chased off by the wattlebirds too, but it could also mean that they are quietly nesting somewhere nearby. I haven’t seen or heard the local Grey Butcherbirds for many weeks, but I am hoping that as the warmer weather arrives they will once again come to my birdbaths.

      • Leni says:

        Thanks Trevor, for your reply. I’m sorry to hear you aren’t well, I hope your health improves soon.
        Not even 4 hours after I posted my question, I was sitting out in my favourite spot watching the birds when I saw the butcherbirds up in another tree. They didn’t come to our place for water, and there were a lot of wattle birds around, so possibly they have found a more peaceful place to bath. I was just very happy that they are OK. I have missed their beautiful songs. Hopefully they will visit us again soon…

  72. Phil says:

    Geeze, it’s nearly four years since I first wrote and the butcherbirds still visit me each day. The shy male now feeds from my hand and has had a couple of new women in his life since. They just had chicks but this time only saw one of them once. He tries to come too early most days for a feed so I squirt him with water but he doesn’t give up, it is like a game. They are a such a wonderful and smart song bird.

  73. Caz says:

    I have befriended a beautiful butcher bird. I call him Sweeney.
    As soon as I come on to my decking he knows I will feed him.
    I have a blue plastic lid that I put some meat on. He has become demanding now and picks up the blue lid to show me he wants more. We lost our beautiful dog a few weeks ago and he has brought a ray of sunshine to our home. Sweeney definitely has personality

  74. Kathy says:

    I have been regularly feeding two butcher birds. I loved them both. Yesterday while driving home, I spotted the male lying on the road. I picked him up and noticed his neck was broken. He subsequently died. A neighbour approached and said the bird had flown into his drone and fell to the ground. I am so upset for his partner. She is still coming to my house. After I found him, I put the body of the male within sight for her to see, as she was calling him and looking around for him. Can someone please tell me, will she look for another partner? If so, does she sing and attract one? I really hope she can find a partner. I really would appreciate any information please.

  75. Kerry says:

    I’m so sorry to hear this. Truly heartbreaking. I’ve been sharing my yard with my gorgeous two (and all their many children) over the last 7 years. I always pray that something like that never happens to them. How lovely and compassionate of you to do what you did. I hope she meets another.

  76. Sally says:

    I have a pair of butcher birds in my backyard. They have built a beautiful nest in my porch and the female has laid two eggs approximately 32 days ago. She still sits on them and the pair fiercely protect their territory. I have read that the incubation period is approximately 25 days. How can I tell if the eggs are viable? Or is is possible that she continues to sit even if they are dead? I havenโ€™t been able to find this information online. I anxiously look forward to hearing. Thank you.

  77. Phil Leach says:

    I have a family of grey butcherbirds who visit and whom I feed. We’ve been at the address for 20 years now; greys visited for most of the first 10 or 12 years then didn’t come for 8 years or so. They are back now, though I don’t know if they are the same birds, certainly they have had close contact with people.
    I have a question. The birds have a lightly coloured patch between each eye and their beak, lightly coloured patches on their otherwise black head. On all my present visitors the patches are white but I have pictures from 10 or so years ago where the patches are very slightly creamy coloured. Does this say anything about age or gender?
    I grew up with pied butcherbirds; my mother could whistle their call. They visited and were always friendly, as are my present visiting greys. I have had two experiences in my life where I walked past separate pideys and saw them eyeing me closely. I swear I could just about feel their eyes burning holes in the back of my head after I walked past them. I’m sure the next step would have been an attack.

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