If you are a fan of crossword puzzles, you may have come across the clue “butcher birds” in the New York Times crossword of December 8, 2022. The answer to this clue is SHRIKES, a group of songbirds that are known for their predatory and impaling habits. But what are shrikes, and why are they called butcher birds? In this article, we will explore the fascinating world of these birds and learn some facts about their biology, behavior, and distribution.
What are Shrikes and Why are They Called Butcher Birds?
Shrikes are small to medium-sized passerine birds that belong to the family Laniidae, which contains about 30 species in four genera. They are mostly found in Eurasia and Africa, but some species also occur in North America and Australia. Shrikes have a distinctive appearance, with a large, hooked bill, a black mask or eye stripe, and often a contrasting pattern of black, white, and gray on their plumage. They are also known for their complex and melodious songs, which they use to communicate and defend their territories.
Shrikes are called butcher birds because of their unique feeding behavior. They are carnivorous and hunt a variety of prey, such as insects, rodents, lizards, birds, and even small mammals. They use their strong bill to kill their prey by biting the neck or the head. However, unlike most birds of prey, shrikes do not have strong talons to hold their prey. Instead, they use their bill to impale their prey on sharp objects, such as thorns, twigs, barbed wire, or even cactus spines. This way, they can secure their prey while they tear it apart, store it for later consumption, or attract mates. Shrikes are also known to cache their prey in larders, which are collections of impaled prey items that can be used as food reserves or as displays of hunting prowess.
How are Shrikes Related to Butcherbirds of Australia?
Butcherbirds are another group of songbirds that are closely related to shrikes. They belong to the family Artamidae, which also includes the Australian magpie, the currawongs, and the peltops. Butcherbirds are native to Australasia, and comprise about seven species in two genera: Melloria and Cracticus. They are similar to shrikes in appearance and behavior, having a large, hooked bill, a black-and-white or black-and-gray plumage, and a habit of impaling their prey on thorns or forks. They are also accomplished singers, and some species are known to mimic the calls of other birds.
However, butcherbirds are not the same as shrikes, and they are not closely related to them. They are an example of convergent evolution, which is the process by which unrelated organisms evolve similar traits due to similar environmental pressures. Butcherbirds and shrikes have independently evolved the same adaptations for hunting and impaling their prey, but they have different evolutionary origins and histories. Shrikes are part of the Corvoidea superfamily, which includes crows, jays, ravens, and other intelligent and social birds. Butcherbirds are part of the Malaconotoidea superfamily, which includes woodswallows, bowerbirds, and birds-of-paradise.
What are Some Interesting Facts about Shrikes and Butcherbirds?
Shrikes and butcherbirds are fascinating birds that have many interesting facts and features. Here are some of them:
- Shrikes are sometimes called “nine-killers” or “seven-killers” because of the superstition that they kill nine or seven prey items before eating them. This is not true, as shrikes eat their prey as soon as they catch them, unless they are storing them for later or displaying them for mates.
- Shrikes are also known as “loggerhead shrikes” or “butcherbirds” in North America, where there is only one species, the loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus). This species is endangered in Canada and declining in the United States, due to habitat loss, pesticide use, and predation by cats and other animals.
- Butcherbirds are sometimes called “jacky hangman” or “murder bird” in Australia, because of their habit of hanging their prey on branches or wires. They are also known to attack humans or other animals that approach their nests or territories, and can inflict painful wounds with their sharp bills.
- Butcherbirds are very adaptable and can live in a variety of habitats, from tropical rainforests to arid shrublands. They have also adjusted well to urbanization and can be found in parks and gardens, where they may become semi-tame and accept food offerings from humans.
- Butcherbirds are cooperative breeders, which means that they form groups of related or unrelated individuals that help each other raise the young. Some group members may delay dispersal and stay with their parents for several years, helping them feed and defend the nestlings and fledglings.
Butcher birds nyt crossword is a clue that leads to the answer SHRIKES, a family of songbirds that are known for their predatory and impaling habits. Shrikes are not the same as butcherbirds, which are another group of songbirds that have similar adaptations but different evolutionary origins. Both shrikes and butcherbirds are fascinating birds that have many interesting facts and features. They are also important predators and scavengers that help control the populations of rodents and insects, and contribute to the diversity and balance of the ecosystems they inhabit.