Monday, 2 October 2006

King Cracticus

The black butcherbird (Cracticus quoyi) is a tropical species, restricted to rainforests of Far North Queensland, the Northern Territory and New Guinea. Unlike other butcherbirds, this one is a little shy and secretive. It took patience (and some athleticism) to get photos of this individual at Lake Eacham.

Black butcherbirds are largely carnivorous but will also feed on fruit at a push. If they really have to. On spotting insect or reptile prey, they pounce on it like a cat. Anything too difficult to swallow straight away is wedged among branches for systematic dismemberment. The hook at the tip of the beak makes a very effective breaking knife. After all, they're not called butcherbirds with some lame attempt at ornithological irony. These birds are also known to cache food for a snack later on. You know, just in case there's a shortage in the rainforest.

Last year, I watched an adult black butcherbird feeding its lazy lump of a chick. The young one—which was as big as the parent—whined and whinged while mum (or dad) stuffed an Eastern water dragon down its gullet. Then it just sat there on the branch with the dragon's tail dangling from its beak, expending the least amount of energy in swallowing. Kids, huh?

The ABC has an audio file of the black butcherbird's call, a common sound in Far North Queensland rainforests. (It's a slow download.)

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