Butcherbirds

Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a warm, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

One day Benson was outside in the sunny spot near the front door. He was lying on his tummy, reading a very interesting book from the library.

A big black and white bird with grey wings flew down and landed on his book.

“Hey!” Benson said. “Get off my book!”

The bird walked backwards and forwards a couple of steps. She picked at the page with her sharp, hooked beak.

Benson said, “Don’t do that! If you tear the pages, I’ll get in big trouble at the library.”

The bird stopped pecking. She tipped her head on one side and stared at the picture in the book. “Hey, that looks just like me!” she said.

Benson read the label at the bottom of the illustration. “Are you a grey butcherbird?” he asked.

“Yep, sure am,” said the butcherbird. “Just look at that, I’m in a book!” She called loudly, “Karr, karr! Merle! Colin!”

Two more butcherbirds came flying down. One landed on the book and the other one, who had black and white wings, landed on Benson’s head.

‘What’s up, Elsie?” they said.

“We’re in a book, look!” Elsie said. “Merle, get your feet off the page!”

Merle flew up and stood on Benson’s head too. “Move over, Colin,” she said. The other bird moved over until he was standing with one foot balanced on Benson’s ear.

“Wow, would you look at that!” they said to each other. “We’re in a book! Karr, karr!”

“What does it say about us?” Elsie asked Benson.

Benson cleared his throat and read out loud, “‘Finely hooked grey bill, head and cheeks black, underparts pure white.'”

“Ooh, ‘finely-hooked’!” said Merle. “They’re right about that.” She turned her head from side to side, trying to see her beak.

Benson said, “Excuse me, could you be a bit more careful with your beak? You nearly got my eye.”

“Sorry, sorry,” she said. “What else does it say about me?”

“It says, ‘Sits watchfully and darts quickly down to the ground,'” said Benson.

“They’ve got that right,” Merle said. She sat down and tried to look watchful. Colin gave her a nudge and she fell over with a squawk.

“What else does it say?” Elsie demanded.

Benson read, “‘They have untidy nests, made of twigs and grass.'”

“Untidy? That’s not very nice,” Merle said. “What do you think, Colin? Is our nest untidy?”

The big black-and-white butcherbird fixed his eye on Benson. His wickedly sharp beak shone in the sun, and Benson started to feel nervous.

“Wait a minute,” Merle said. “Colin, you don’t look anything like this. You haven’t got any grey in your wings at all.”

“Karr, karr!” Elsie chuckled. “Didn’t I always say that Colin was just an old magpie?”

Colin glared at Elsie. Benson quickly turned the page and pointed to another picture. “He’s a pied butcherbird, that’s why,” he said. “Look at this picture.”

Colin turned his beak until it was very, very close to Benson’s ear. Benson read quickly, “‘Pied butcherbirds have superb, mellow voices.'”

Colin smiled. He flipped his wings at Merle and Elsie, and flew off slowly, singing in a low, mellow voice.

“Wait a bit,” Elsie said, catching sight of another illustration on the same page. “That looks just like Carol! Carol! Carol!” she called.

Another bird, black all over with a massive hooked beak, hopped shyly out of a tree nearby. She sidled up to Elsie and said, “Choi! Choi! What is it?”

“Look, this is you!” Elsie said. “You’re in this book!”

Carol bobbed her head and said in a low voice, “I don’t think so. I’m not like you, you know.”

“Yes, it’s you, I’m sure, ” Elsie said. “Read what it says,” she said to Benson.

Benson said, “It says she’s a black butcherbird.”

“Really?” Carol said, getting excited. “I’m really a butcherbird? Then why don’t I have any white parts? What’s wrong with me?”

Benson read what it said next to the illustration. Then he said, “Black butcherbirds aren’t from here. They only live way, way up north.”

Carol was overjoyed. “There are more butcherbirds just like me, up north? Yippee!” she yodelled at the top of her voice. Benson clapped his hands over his ears, and Merle fell off his head.

Carol started to flap away. “Where are you going?” Elsie called.

“To find my family!” Carol called back and flew away.

Merle pecked at Benson’s foot. “Does it say anything else about us?”

“Not really,” Benson said, “except that some people call you…” He shut the book with a snap.

“What? What?” Elsie said.

“Nothing,” Benson said.

“Tell us!” Merle said, turning her sharp beak towards Benson’s soft nose.

“Um, it says some people call you a jackass,” he said.

“What!” Merle snapped.

Elsie laughed and laughed. “Jackass!” she chortled.

“Jackass!” Merle shouted. “You’re the jackass!”

Benson took his book and crept quietly inside and left them to it.

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