The name Butcher Bird applies to two separate
sets of birds. The first is the Shrike (these birds being the Laniidae
family), and the second is a separate species totally unrelated to
the shrike. This second set is the Butcherbird of Australasia,
this being is the genus Cracticus, which belongs to the Artamidae family
of crow-like birds.
In both cases the name Butcher Bird takes its origin
from the bird's habit of impaling its prey on a thorn while eating it,
and leaving the remains there to decay. A place suitable for this purpose
is often used many times, and, reminding people of a butcher's shambles,
induced the English name.
The Butcher Bird applied to
The practise of impaling its prey seems to have given
rise to application of the the Latin prefix Lanius to many of the
genera of the shrikes, and which appears to have been conferred by Gesner.
The habit has also been observed to be carried out when the shrike is kept
in confinement, as it will then fix its food to the wires of its cage.
The shrikes form the Laniidae family of birds,
One species, the Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor), also
known as the Northern Shrike, derives its trivial designation from
the use made of it as a sentinel by falconers when catching wild Hawks.
The Hawk-catcher would lie hidden in a hut, watching through a small hole
the Butcher Bird, which would be tethered some yards off, and by its actions
not only gave him notice of the approach of a Bird-of-Prey, but also indicated
of what kind the stranger was. Thus the sentinel was only slightly troubled
at a passing Kite, Eagle, or Buzzard; but would beat itself on its perch
with screams at the sight of a Harrier, while on the appearance of a Falcon
or Sparrow-Hawk it would drop with cries of distress into a retreat that
had been considerately prepared for it. On this the falconer, by pulling
long strings, would display first one and then a second tethered Pigeon,
and the instant the Hawk clutched this last, would draw a bow-net over
both, thus securing his prize.