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Magpie-Shrikes: Cracticidae

Gray Butcherbird (cracticus Torquatus): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Gray butcherbirds are medium-sized, bull-headed birds with a tapered body; patterned plumage of blacks, grays, and whites; black head with white spot (between eyes and upper bill) and collar; dark brown eyes; gray-and-black bill; gray back; white rump; black tail (with white tips) and wings (with white stripes); grayish white underparts; and dark gray legs and feet. Females are smaller than males, generally have more gray on their breast, and have a shorter bill. Juveniles look like adults but have a dull-gray bill without a hook, are patterned with dusky-olive and speckled upperparts, and have buff to yellowish underparts. Adults Young gray butcherbirds leave the nest after about twenty-eight days, but remain in the breeding territory for about one year to help parents raise future broods. (Illustration by Dan Erickson. Reproduced by permission.) are 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 centimeters) long and weigh between 2.8 and 4 ounces (80 and 110 grams).

Geographic range: Gray butcherbirds are found in much of southern and inland Australia from mid-eastern Queensland through southern Australia to northern Western Australia. They are also found in the northernmost parts of the Northern Territory, and in Tasmania.

Habitat: Gray butcherbirds inhabit closed woodlands and open forests of eucalyptus and acacias (uh-KAY-shuhz; flowering trees). They are not found in treeless deserts.

Diet: Their diet consists of mostly insects but also small birds, nestlings, reptiles (such as lizards), mice, fruits, and seeds. They sit on open perches at 6.5 to 40 feet (2 to 12 meters) while searching for prey. Once sighted, they aggressively pounce, mostly from the ground but sometimes while in flight. Feeding is done alone, in pairs, or in small family groups.

Behavior and reproduction: Monogamous mating pairs defend the same breeding territory (20 to 99 acres, or 8 to 40 hectares) all year-round, but have a larger home range. The pair sings back-and-forth with songs of fluted whistles and ringing caws, which are also heard when alarmed or to show aggression. Gray butcherbirds breed from July to August and December to January. They construct (in about four weeks) tight, bowl-shaped nests that are made with sticks and twigs and lined with grasses and other soft fibers. Nests are usually located about 33 feet (10 meters) or less from the ground, within upright forks in outer foliage. Females lay three to five brownish green eggs that are spotted in red-browns and are incubated by the female while the male defends the area. The incubation period (time to sit on eggs before hatching) is twenty-two to twenty-five days. The young are fed by both parents and leave the nest after about twenty-eight days, but remain in the breeding territory for about one year to help parents raise future broods.

Gray butcherbirds and people: Gray butcherbirds feed on food scraps thrown out by people.

Conservation status: Gray butcherbirds are not considered to be threatened. However, many populations are declining because of habitat clearance. ∎



del Hoyo, Josep, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, J. Cabot, et al., eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, 1992.

Dickinson, Edward C., ed. The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World, 3rd ed. Princeton, NJ and Oxford, U.K.: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Forshaw, Joseph, ed. Encyclopedia of Birds, 2nd ed. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1998.

Harrison, Colin James Oliver. Birds of the World. London and New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1993.

Perrins, Christopher M., and Alex L. A. Middleton, eds. The Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Facts on File, 1985.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsMagpie-Shrikes: Cracticidae - Physical Characteristics, Habitat, Behavior And Reproduction, Bornean Bristlehead (pityriasis Gymnocephala): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, DIET, MAGPIE-SHRIKES AND PEOPLE, CONSERVATION STATUS