Wallace Stegner uses several kinds of symbols in "Butcher Bird." The first is the butcher bird of the title, which symbolizes hunting and killing, whether it's prey or the lifes and souls of family members. Other symbols that stand for the way of life represented by the father are an inhospitable land, hours of hard work to gain a selfish pleasure, the cold-beer icehouse, which symbolizes utter selfishness.
Other symbols that stand for the way of life represented by the boy's mother are music and flowers, these too can be found in an otherwise inhospitable land, which makes far less inhospitable; they symbolize nuturing. Old-Man-on-His-Back symbolizes generosity and the value of another person which is in oppostion to the selfishness and devaluing of others' humanity that is associated with the icehouse.