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400 Day LETS Odyssey
Copyright � James Taris

JAMES TARIS around the World- (2003-4)

The handsome Pied Butcherbird.

AUSTRALIA - [QLD] Bribie Island (Wk.1 and 2 of 1.5 weeks)
Week 59-60 of World Tour

Butcherbird Buddies

My first close-encounter with a butcherbird was on my first trip to Karawatha Forest with Bernice. As we sat in the picnic area we noticed a Black-throated Butcherbird pecking scraps off a BBQ grill. But soon after our sandwiches came out, there were 2 of these guys perched on a small fence only 2 m (6 feet) from our table. I’d seen wild birds being hand-fed in reserves, so I thought I’d try to get these birds to respond.

Butcherbirds are meat eaters and get their name due to their habit of hanging their dead prey in trees, much like a butcher hangs his meat. So I thought I’d entice them with a small piece of cold meat from my sandwich. Sure enough, the larger one soon flew onto the edge of the table and pondered whether to get any closer. But my patience outlasted his urge to eat, and within minutes he’d pecked the first morsel from my fingers. I immediately responded with another offering and he came much more willingly this time. His friend, who’d been observing all this time, sensed that all was safe so he came for a snack as well. All-in-all they got 10 pieces from me and there was still enough left over for me.

But that experience was nothing compared to the butcherbirds on Bribie Island.

On my first day on Bribie, fondly referred to as ‘God’s waiting room’ due to the high number of retirement homes on the island, we had several visitors come, literally, out of the blue.

Brenda’s home was an old fibro house built on tall iron posts so that the cool breeze could blow more easily through the house. And on this day a kookaburra and 2 Black-throated Butcherbirds, a male and female, flew onto the railing only 2m (6 ft.) from where we sat on the verandah. I guess the birds had worked out that 2 m is as close as they would get to us and still feel safe enough to fly away if startled. Unfortunately, we weren’t eating at that time and so we missed out on a feeding opportunity.

But birds are quick learners, and a few days later, while we were on the verandah soaking up the sunshine and nibbling on sultanas, the male butcherbird came to the same spot on the railing. I didn’t have a table to entice him on to, so I just held my arm out to see what he would do. After sizing up the situation for a moment he chose to fly over and take the sultana from my fingers ‘on the wing’. He didn’t seem too pleased with his prize, so he didn’t stick around for any more. When I saw him later on that day, I quickly ducked into the kitchen and chopped up a small piece of bacon for him. This time he was happy to hang around until he’d eaten every piece I had. Success at last.

I believe that trust is the most crucial part of winning the confidence of wild creatures, and I’m sure they’re smart enough to know you’re not always going to have the good stuff out when you’re eating. So over the next few days they were happy to accept bits of my breakfast, which I always ate on the verandah, as food offerings. These included a piece of jam on toast, and cheese and toast.

Then as if he knew I was about to leave, on July 19, the day before returning to Melbourne, the male butcherbird flew inside the house … twice. On his first visit he flew through Brenda’s office and into the loungeroom, perching himself on my jacket which was draped over a chair. Brenda was cooking Chicken Catiatory at the time, so I borrowed some small pieces of raw chicken to feed him. The butcherbird kept belting the meat on my jacket instinctively trying to ‘kill it’ before eating it. And all the while I was saying to myself how nice it would’ve been to have photographed him. But when the meat ran out, so did he. Well, actually he flew out. And as if to do me one last favour, he flew back inside and perched on a cane chair in the office. This time I had time to photograph him and he posed for me beautifully, allowing me to take a couple of shots before flying away for the last time.

Ah, such memories. It’s hard to imagine a more enjoyable experience than when people and wildlife can interact in harmony.

This article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey

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