PIED CROW

When we first moved to the Eastern Cape over thirty years ago, crows of any sort were seldom seen in town.  Cape Crows (Corvus capensis) used to fly over the municipal rubbish dump in large numbers and could be seen on the fringes of the town. They have been coming into suburbia more frequently, but it is the arrival of the Pied Crows (Corvus albus) that has been surprising. From not being seen at all, Pied Crows are now regular visitors all over town.

This is consistent with several articles recording the spread of Pied Crows across the country. I may have mentioned before that research has indicated that this may partly be ascribed to both global warming, the availability of nest sites on the metal structures supporting power-lines, as well as increased food availability from road kill.

Just as they do when an eagle or buzzard flies over the garden, the birds go silent as soon as a Pied Crow appears overhead. I have seen both Red-winged Starlings and Fork-tailed Drongos chasing after Pied Crows, mobbing them incessantly until they are well out of harm’s way, and wonder if this is to protect their nestlings. They are both omnivorous and opportunistic feeders – which is why they too are frequently seen around the municipal rubbish dump as well as in the open veld.

I am intrigued by the three white bands showing on the wings of this particular Pied Crow as they were not evident on either of these crows when I photographed them in January. Are they an indication that this one is still a juvenile?

Interesting reading:

http://www.fitzpatrick.uct.ac.za/fitz/research/programmes/maintaining_global/pied_crows

https://albertonrecord.co.za/196544/birds-of-alberton-pied-crow/

NOTE: Click on the photographs if you want a larger view.

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PREENING PIED CROWS

Usually one only sees the white breast of a Pied Crow (Corvus albus) as it flies overhead. In fact, I mostly see Pied Crows when they are on the wing and so it was interesting to watch this pair sitting on top of a stunted Huilboerboon (Schotia brachypetala) preening themselves despite the wind rocking them to and fro.

Double click on these pictures to get a larger image.

STONE THE CROWS

No, I do not mean that literally – that is the last kind of behaviour I would encourage! Rather, stone the crows is a phrase generally understood to be an exclamation of incredulity or annoyance. Although this is not a term widely used in South Africa, it occasionally springs to mind when crows squawk and gurgle as they fly over my garden or settle in one of the tall trees before being mobbed by some of the smaller denizens of the area.

Until about five years ago, crows of any kind were more often seen in the area known as Burnt Kraal and around the municipal dump, both on the outskirts of our town. Now I see both Cape Crows and Pied Crows daily in the suburbs – occasionally even a White-necked Raven.

The Pied Crow (Corvus albus) is the most common and widespread all over the country.

It is easily recognised by its white breast and neck, both while flying or when it is on the ground. They have been recorded as being on the increase in South Africa, partly because of the availability of nesting sites on electrical poles coupled with roadkill as an available source of food. Any traveller along our network of roads will attest to this. The Pied Crow is highly adaptable in terms of the food it eats, which includes an omnivorous diet of fruit, seeds, small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects. They are known to raid the nests of birds for either eggs or nestlings, so it is no surprise that the Fork-tailed Drongos nesting the fig tree regularly chase one off the property. I wonder if they say stone the crows, wishing they could do this literally!

Pied Crows also remind me of a song we used to sing in primary school. It began:

Aai, aai, die Witborskraai!

Hiervandaan na Mosselbaai

–Oompie wil na Tannie vry,

maar Tannie trek haar neus opsy.

You might find this an interesting site to visit:

http://www.fitzpatrick.uct.ac.za/fitz/research/programmes/maintaining_global/pied_crows

The Cape Crow (Corvus capensis) used to be called (and is still widely known as) the Black Crow – perfectly understandable as it is a glossy black all over.

It is a common resident in grasslands as well as in the drier regions of the country. They are ubiquitous in the Addo Elephant National Park, where we saw flocks of close to fifty scattered across the veld in the vicinity of Carol’s Rest and elsewhere. They too are omnivorous birds, feeding on insects, small reptiles, birds, frogs, seeds, fruit and carrion.

FRIEND OR FOE?

Farmers do not regard these wily creatures as friends, yet they are a delight to observe in their natural habitat.

Black-backed Jackals tend to mate for life and so, should you see one in the veld, you can virtually be certain there is another in the vicinity. A pair of them trotted purposefully along the edge of Ghwarrie Pan shortly after sunrise one morning. It was at Carol’s Rest though that we observed an interesting altercation between a Black-backed Jackal and a Pied Crow.

The latter had already experienced an unsuccessful attempt to share the small waterhole with an Egyptian Goose that had arrived out of the blue – with no intention of sharing the water with anyone!

Once the Egyptian Goose had drunk its fill and flown off, the Pied Crow was in no mood to be ousted from its drinking spot again and made sure the approaching Black-backed Jackal was aware of this. Doubtless, the jackal was thirsty too and so it kept trotting purposefully towards the water. The crow opted to make a pre-emptive strike.

It continued to harass the jackal until it gave up and moved away to drink from the overflow a little further down the slope.