I’ve often puzzled about the absence of butcherbirds in the Newstead district. Travel a short distance north, just beyond Maldon, and you’ll start to see Grey Butcherbirds, but I’ve never sighted one locally, in nearly 30 years of observing.
It seems however that they’ve been here all along!
I’ve just finished reading a marvellous new book, Where song began – Australia’s birds and how they changed the world, by Tim Low.
This extract from a review of the book, by Sean Dooley published in the Sydney Morning Herald (23/6/2014), summarises the central thesis of Where song began.
‘Low traces how the unfolding understanding of continental drift started to erode that northern-centric certainty, one that was despatched to the boundary with the recent development of DNA analysis techniques that revealed that not only did many Australian bird families not have their origins from the north but some of the world’s major bird groups – including parrots, pigeons and passerines (songbirds) – actually evolved in Australia and radiated outwards in successive waves of emigration. Some such as ravens and finches flowed back to our shores millions of years later, but it was more of a homecoming than a terra nullius occupation.’
Towards of the end of this fascinating and beautifully written book the author explains that the Black Butcherbird, a bird of tropical rainforest and mangroves in northern Australia, is closer to the Australian Magpie genetically than it is to other butcherbirds, all of which are tree, rather than ground favouring species, like the magpie. He suggests that with the recent addition of the magpie to the butcherbird genus, it would be more accurately called the ‘giant ground butcherbird’! He goes on to suggest that ‘The move from forest to open ground made it bigger, fiercer and probably smarter’.
PS … Please let me know if you see a butcherbird close to Newstead!