This bird is anything but what you would regard as a cheerful feathered friend. This clever avian predator has developed a unique hunting style by closely observing its prey and then hastily moving in for the kill. In the animal kingdom, animals are inclined to utilize either fight or flight tactics. Well, the butcher bird is an exception to this rule. As it name indicates, this bird is brutal, showing no mercy to its prey. The butcher bird (“Lanius collaris”), also known as the Fiscal Shrike, adopts the sit-and-wait hunting method; remaining inert and perusing an area with its sharp eyes. It is a master of deception, confusing its victims as it mimics the sounds of local birds’ shrill or sweet tones. When it notices a meal, the butcher bird then swiftly swoops down and snatches up its prey. If this is a small prey, it will generally eat it straightaway. If not, its victim has major problems…
Larger victims suffer a horrific death, as butcher birds are renowned for impaling their prey on thorns, branches or barbed wire. This act is not performed reluctantly – the food item is skewered so that the sharp point of the murder weapon protrudes all the way through. If they do not eat their meal on the spot, these sharp objects are used as a “pantry” to store their food for a later snack. Butcher birds have a wide taste range, enjoying insects such as grasshoppers, cicadas, caterpillars and moths. Their larger meals of choice range from reptiles such as lizards and snakes, to frogs, rodents and even other birds!
Not only are butcher birds expert killers, they are vicious fighters too. Males are highly territorial and defend their territory against other males or opponents, gripping their rival with their claws and repeatedly pecking them with their large and curved bills. Females are in charge of nest building, constructing the nest from twigs, spider webs, feathers, moss, grass etc high up in a fork of a tree. The female tends to the chicks during the first week after hatching, where after the male assumes more responsibility.
The butcher bird belongs to the shrike family and is split into two species: the Southern Fiscal, Lanius collaris, as mentioned above and the Northern Fiscal, Lanius humelaris. The Southern Fiscal is widespread in South Africa, but is also found in neighboring countries such as Namibia, southern Botswana and Zimbabwe. The Northern Fiscal is predominant in eastern Africa. These birds prefer residing in wide-open spaces with dispersed trees in areas such as grassland, woodland and shrub land.
Butcher birds have adapted well to suburban areas, and have even invaded some residential gardens. They can be a pest for people who have gone to great lengths to create a bird-friendly environment, as their territorial nature tends to drive away other birds. These birds are fearless and opportunistic, eagerly taking food to the point of being semi-domesticated. Watch out for this aggressive avian, they might just decide you’re next in their pecking order!