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 Shrike
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.
The Butcherbird of Australasia
The Butcherbird of Australasia, this forming the Cracticus genus of birds, has a black and white appearance similar to a magpie. Its bill is straight but hooked at the end, which enables the Butcherbird to spike its prey. The Australasian Butcher Bird's natural habitat is woodland areas but it also can be found in urban zones too. These birds are said to have great intelligence and a particularly attractive song.
The female Cracticus usually lays 1 or 2 eggs. Once hatched the chicks often follow her around whilst their mother collects food for them, the chicks chirping and tweeting as they go.