By Colin Bath (Animal Superintendent)
First Published in The Avicultural Magazine Vol. 87 No. 1
Copyright © 1981 Avicultural Society, Published with Permission

An adult pair of the BreedingPied ButcherbirdCracticus nigrogularis was acquired from Perth Zoo, Australia, arriving in this country on 21st June 1972. Breeding did not occur until 1978 when three chicks were hatched on 30th May, none of which survived longer than 24 hours.

Accommodation comprises an outside flight measuring 8 by 3 by 3.6 metres high and an inside heated house, 8 by 3 by 2.5 metres high. Both quarters are furnished with large branches and the floors deeply sanded. Sharing the aviary during 1979 were a single cock Splendid Parrakeet Neophema splendida, a pair of Fischer's Lovebird Agapornis fischeri and a trio of Sonnerat's Junglefowl Gallus sonneratii. The Butcherbirds' diet consists of small mice, day-old chicks, meat, cooked minced chicken and mealworms.

In February of 1979 a short trunk section of Chusan Palm Trachycarpus fortunei was wired into a back corner of the outside flight, the top of which was approximately three metres above the aviary floor. It was upon this that both Butcherbirds began to construct a flat nest in early March. Materials used, apart from palm fibres, included twigs, moss, camel hair (shed by our Arabian Camels the previous spring) and, somewhat surprisingly, a large number of hair strands forcibly plucked from the girl keeper's head by the Butcherbirds themselves. Small pieces of silver paper, sweet wrappers and any other shiny objects pushed through the aviary wire by the visiting public were eagerly added to the fabric of the nest.

On 14th March it became apparent that the Butcherbirds would not tolerate the presence of other smaller birds in the aviary and accordingly both the Lovebirds and Splendid Parakeet were removed. Presumably, the Junglefowl posed no threat to the nest and were never attacked.

The first egg was laid on 17th March and our observations led us to believe that only the hen bird incubated. On 13th April two chicks and two eggs were glimpsed, though just two days later one egg had been ejected from the nest and the other was missing, presumably thrown out and perhaps eaten by the Junglefowl. For the first few days, both chicks were fed entirely on mealworms by both parents. Earthworms and insects were never accepted. After about 12 days the parent birds further provided strips of flesh torn from mice.

Both young left the nest on 13th May and from the outset it was clear that the adult birds favoured feeding the bigger of their two fledglings. As a result of this neglect the smaller juvenile died a week later. The remaining offspring continued to thrive, often returning to the nest with the hen, and was seen to feed of its own accord during early June. At the time of writing, November 1980, it has only now begun to moult its immature brown and white plumage.

On 2nd March 1980 the adult birds again began nesting although this year a separate structure was laid down on a weldmesh platform some three metres above the aviary floor. The previous year's young often imitated its parents by carrying twigs.

The hen began to incubate her three eggs on 16th March, all of which hatched on 9th April. The 1979 bird sometimes assisted in feeding the newly-hatched chicks, although more often begged food items from the parents for its own consumption. One chick was found dead on 30th April, the remaining two left the nest on 12th May. As in 1979, the smaller fledgling succumbed after several days of neglect and even more saddening, the remaining offspring died a week later as a result of a sudden attack by the 1979 juvenile.

Almost immediately the hen bird began to renovate her nest, commencing the incubation of two eggs on 28th May. On 9th June the 1979 bird was removed and caged elsewhere. After almost four weeks of sitting the hen was flushed from the nest and on closer examination both eggs were found to be clear. Since the hen was obviously unwell, the nest was destroyed. Fortunately she is now fully recovered and both adults have now been translocated to a far deeper aviary appropriately adjacent to another pair of cracticids, the Western Magpie Gymnorhina tibicen dorsalis.

As described above, the Pied Butcherbird Cracticus nigrogularis has been bred by Paignton Zoological and Botanic Gardens and this is believed to be the first success in this country. Anyone knowing of a previous breeding in Great Britain or Northern Ireland is asked to inform the Hon. Secretary.