The White-necked Raven
, Corvus albicollis
, is the biggest member of the South African crow family. They are very similar in size to a yellow-billed kite and can easily displace some of the smaller raptors at a kill, especially when they team up to do so. I have seen their “King-of-the-Castle” behaviour and tactics at a number of vulture feeding sites, but I have recently come to the conclusion that their bark is much worse than their bite. They seasonally adopt vulture restaurants as their "Castle" and they defend it against bigger scavengers. Where they feature, the Bearded Vulture in particular seems to have become a "victim" of this game of "King of the Castle"! The vulture restaurants in and around the Drakensberg were envisaged to be the solution needed for the survival of the endangered Bearded Vulture. Nobody could have foreseen the raven twist. Legend has it that they can attach themselves to the backs of bigger birds from where they attack the bird's neck and head until the bird loses coordination and crashes!
Quite recently I got feedback from Sonja Krueger, the KZN Bearded Vulture guru. She refutes this bit of bush lore, saying that the story is far-fetched. The ravens' reputation has been unjustly tarnished by uninformed observers at the vulture feeding sites. The ravens will not do much more than pull at the tail feathers of big birds at the feeding site or in flight. Their presence at these feeding sites is seasonal and often depends of the type of food available; at certain times they will all but disappear. When necessary, vultures can more than hold their own in a confrontation with the ravens.
The raven favours escarpments, rocky cliffs and mountainous regions, nesting and roosting on cliffs. They are highly intelligent and adaptable feeders, eating nearly anything that is edible, preying mainly on rodents and large insects although it will also act as a scavenger, often targeting road kills. It has been seen picking up tortoises that they drop from heights of about 15 metres onto rocks to crack open the shell so that they can eat the juicy insides.
Average lifespan is 20 years, but birds can live up to 40.
Ravens tend to stay in pairs. They "play" tag games with a bone or a stick for hours on end, honing their flying skills.