Butcher Bird, a name applied to the great shrike, belonging to the order passeres, tribe dentirostres, and family lariidae. The best known genus of the family is lanius (Linn.), characterized by a moderately long and strong bill, with the culmen curved and tip hooked and emarginate; tarsus short and strong; toes long and robust, the outer the longest; hind toe long and broadly padded; claws curved and sharp. There are more than 30 species described in America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, of which the butcher bird (L. [collyrio] borealis, Baird), or great American shrike, is a celebrated one. The length of this bird is 10 1/4 inches, the extent of wings 14, of the bill along the back three fourths of an inch. The plumage is soft and blended; long bristles at the base of the bill; wings of ordinary length, 4th quill the longest; tail long, straight, graduated, of 12 rounded feathers; loral space, behind the eye, wings and tail, brownish black; iris hazel; upper parts light ash-gray, tinged with pale blue; a white streak over eye; lower parts grayish white, tinged with brown on the fore part of breast, and with faint, undulating, dusky bars; base of the primaries white, the secondaries and their coverts tipped with the same; in the female the head and hind neck are tinged with brown, and the lower part has more numerous bars.
It is common in the middle and northern states for the greater part of the year, retiring northward to breed; according to Audubon, it is not found along the coast of the southern states, 0. Ludovicianus (Baird) taking its place. The nest is built of dry grass, leaves, and moss, in the fork of a bush or low tree; the eggs are five or six in number, of a dull cinereous blue color, spotted and streaked at the larger end with yellowish brown; the time of incubation is 15 days. It frequents woody and bushy places, where it sits perched on a branch continually jerking its tail; its flight is undulating and rapid; it is most commonly seen single or in pairs, and is wary and hard to approach. It feeds on insects, especially grasshoppers and crickets; but it also attacks and kills small birds, which it tears apart and swallows in large pieces; it pitches downward like a hawk, with closed wings, on the back of its victim, which it instantly strikes in the head, tearing open its skull. In confinement it eats eagerly pieces of fresh beef. It has the singular propensity of impaling insects and small birds on points of twigs and thorns.
It is so bold that it often enters apartments where pet birds are kept, and attempts to seize them from the cages.
Butcher Bird (Lanius excubitor).
It imitates the notes of other birds in distress, and when they flock around to see what is the matter, it pounces into the midst. It will pursue birds on the wing, and even small quadrupeds and lizards. Audubon is of opinion that this bird is the same as the L. excubitor of Linnaeus, but more recent authorities consider them distinct. The European bird, or great cinereous shrike, is rare, in England; it is sometimes trained in Russia for catching small birds, rats, and mice, which, like its American congener, it fixes to a thorn and tears to pieces with its bill; it possesses the same propensity for fixing its food in confinement, according to Selby; it is also called butcher bird. The C. Ludovicianus (Baird) is a native of the southern states, being confined chiefly to Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. This is called the loggerhead shrike, and abounds on the rice plantations, where it does good service in destroying field mice, large grubs, and insects, pouncing upon them like a hawk.
In all the botcher birds the legs and claws are weak, and are never used in tearing their prey; this is effected by their powerful bill, and in this they differ from the other birds of prey, which strike and tear with their talons.