Wednesday, January 6

of butchers, murders and food

By this time of the year, the brown shrike rules our backyard.  Only the yellow-vented bulbuls are brave enough to visit our garden with the brown shrike patrolling the yard from his strategic perches:  the clothesline running across the yard, the rose bush, the bagawak.  But his favorite perch is the kafir lime bush which my mom planted to flavor her thai cooking.  The kafir lime is planted in the center of the garden against the back wall. It is a thorny bush and is proof of why the brown shrike is often called the butcher bird.

Quite the gourmand, our brown shrike and i seem to share another of my garden favorites:  frogs! Frogs for me to watch (out for), frogs for him to eat! Having a raptor-like beak is not enough for the brown shrike to tear apart its meals: its feet are too small and weak to hold its prey that it has to impale its prey so it can deftly cut up its food into bite-sized pieces. During the Christmas break i espied our nasty little boarder on the kafir lime relishing something bloody on its beak. As soon as it flew off to inspect something else which caught its fancy, I did my own investigating.  At first I couldn’t make out what I was looking at…

and then I realized: it was a little tree frog’s head!

Well, what was left of the head.  It was not so delicately skewered through its eye socket, a thorn pushing out one of its eyeballs.  Oh yum.

I was careful not to disturb our backyard boarder’s crime scene/dinner table and backed off.  As soon as I was what the shrike probably presumed a safe distance away, it
immediately came back, looked at me suspiciously and proceeded to finish its meal.

Hmph, did it think I was going to steal its prized catch? (Anyway, I would’ve thought the eyeballs would be very tasty and it really shouldn’t leave the best things for last.) 

To my surprise, he jumped to another branch and another and another, where he seemed to have stocked up on other frog parts!  A leg here, another leg there, something I couldn’t figure out elsewhere. Sly bird!  Like his name-sake he had divided the carrion into several choice cuts and distributed them throughout the plant!  As soon as he had gorged himself, he took a long look at me (“ha! I ate everything, nothing left for you to steal!”) and took off.  Feeling stupid for having missed body parts, I made another careful inspection of the thorny bush.  Wow, this bird kept quite a larder!  There was an entire desiccated frog skeleton hung out to dry!  Probably the remains of a previous meal.  Such a high calorie diet has fattened up our brown shrike who will be going on its long journey back north in a few months.

The entire affair has added to my list of “why it’s nice to have frogs in the garden even if they jump out at you from nowhere”.  (Also another list: “why all the other birds are afraid to come to the garden from September to April”)

King of the backyard patrolling from the clothesline... for now.

P.S.  A week later, we were having lunch  at the famous Cely’s near the Nepo Mart in Angeles City and one of my cousins ordered betute (dressed frog stuffed with minced meat).  I couldn’t help but remember our backyard boarder who prefers frogs on his menu as well.