White-necked Raven – Corvus albicollis (With Pictures)

White-necked Raven – Corvus albicollis (With Pictures)

“The night was dark and stormy – the rain came tumbling down, the shadow of the raven ……”. This is the typical scenario in fictional horror novels and movies where ravens and crows are stereotyped. Their dark colours, large bills, and equally dark eyes set them up as mysterious mythical birds of doom. The fact that they have been seen as very intelligent has helped this opinion.

Ravens and crows have been prominent in various mythologies and folklore for centuries. From Celtic tales of The Morrigan to Greek stories of Apollo’s raven, these birds have been woven into the fabric of many cultures. Let’s explore a few of these fascinating stories.

In Celtic mythology, ravens and crows hold a prominent place, particularly in the legends of The Morrigan.

The Morrigan, known in Celtic mythology as the goddess of war, fate, and death, could transform into a crow or raven. This transformation was a sight that would either inspire or terrify warriors on the battlefield.

The Morrigan was often depicted as a trio of ravens, symbolising the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. This key element in the stories about The Morrigan underscores the importance and reverence of ravens and crows in Celtic culture.

Wwhite Necked Raven

In Greek mythology, ravens were associated with Apollo, the God of Archery, Light, and Truth. Apollo had a white raven, which he sent to spy on his lover, Coronis. The raven returned with the news that Coronis had been unfaithful. In anger, Apollo scorched the raven, turning all the raven’s feathers black. This transformation symbolises the raven’s role as a messenger and the consequences of betrayal, further emphasising the cultural significance of ravens in Greek mythology.

Look at one of the birds from this Corvid family, the White-necked Raven. It is not as big as the common raven but larger than crows. It is also slightly different as it has a splash of white in its makeup.


White-necked Ravens are species of bird that belongs to the corvid family and is closely related to crows. They are an impressive species found in Eastern Africa and are one of the seven corvid species. These ravens are larger and more robust than most crows, standing at a height of 52 cm.

They have glossy black plumage with white nuchal collars at the rear of their necks. Their white napes extend a little around to the sides of their necks. They also have heavy, arched, ivory-white tipped, broad bills, dark eyes, and legs. Additionally, they have a purplish gloss on their neck, throat, and breast.

  • Average Length: 52 cm
  • Wingspan: 75 – 86 cm
  • Conservation: Low Concern
  • Diet: Omnivores but eat carrion as well – will eat almost anything
  • Habitat: Mountains, Gorges, and cliffs

In flight, they are easily noticeable by their short tails. They have broad wings, which allows them to soar easily. They can be seen soaring with vultures.

Wwhite Necked Raven Closeup

Female birds are slightly larger than males. Juveniles are browner than adults, with black specks on their white feathered hind necks. They lack the white tip to their bills and can be seen with narrowish white breast bands.

Distribution and habitat

White-necked Ravens are exclusively found in Africa and can be observed in the eastern and southern parts of the continent. These countries include South Africa, Burundi, DR Congo, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Their limited range is due to the vegetation type found in these areas. It’s worth noting that these ravens have not yet been spotted in the usually dry western regions of Southern Africa.

Because of their nesting habits, White-necked Ravens are found exclusively in mountainous areas, especially gorges and cliffs. They are generally ground feeders and will be seen walking foraging on the ground. They are seen hunting in fields and following roads, searching for roadkill.


The White-necked Ravens enjoy a variety of food. They are scavengers and will mostly consume anything. They eat invertebrates, vertebrates, and plant material varieties, including maise, fruit, berries, and ground nuts. They also eat eggs. They even feed on ticks taken from cattle.

Wwhite Necked Ravens in Flight


These ravens are usually found on the ground, searching for food. You may observe them walking upright boldly or hopping around for meals. They can also be seen patrolling along lake shores, searching for frogs or dead fish. Moreover, they follow roads to look for roadkill.

These ravens are also known to search for fire sites, where they can snap up fleeing prey.

Ravens have a carnivorous diet as well and feed on various sources. They have been observed to rob smaller bird nests and consume their eggs or chicks. Additionally, they have been known to eat small birds. Farmers of small stock farms have reported that ravens kill newly born lambs, domestic chickens, and geese. Although they scavenge through rubbish dumps, they stay away from human settlements. White-necked Ravens are commonly found near carcasses in the wild and are among the first birds to arrive at a carcass.


Mostly singularly or in pairs. They can also be seen in flocks out of breeding season and with other scavengers like yellow-billed kites and vultures. They play a lot, swooping down cliff faces, dropping stones or sticks, and then catching them again. Sometimes, they would allow their partners to catch them.

Wwhite Necked Raven Sitting on a Branch


Sounds are very similar to the Common Raven but huskier. These high-pitched calls are given in quick succession. They can mimic domestic poultry.


The White-necked Ravens are monogamous and very territorial.

When they are just teenagers, they normally hang out together, feeding and looking for a mate to share their lives with, which are fairly long periods.


Once a mate has been found, they will search for a territory to start breeding. They get territorial once a territory is defined, which they defend vigorously. They will specifically look for nesting sites high up on a cliff face.

If more ravens were in the area, their nests would not be less than about 30 m apart.

Wwhite Necked Ravens

Both sexes build the nests in potholes or sheltered areas rather than on open ledges. The nest comprises a broad, open bowl of dry twigs tightly knitted together.  They will create a cup shape in the middle of this stick mass. The cup will normally be lined with dry grass, animal hair, or any soft material they find, which includes rags. 

These nests will be used year after year, but the pair will refurbish and add on to them. After a few years, the nest can become quite large, as you can imagine.  The female cleans out the nests as she rids the nest of faeces, even eating them on occasion.


The White-necked Raven would lay eggs mostly between September and October.  Their clutch sizes vary from two to five. The eggs are incubated between 21 and 26 days. Incubation normally starts before the last egg is laid, which leads to asynchronous hatching.

The nestling/fledgling period is about 38 days, and the female only feeds the chicks. The chicks are first fed regurgitated food, which will change later to solid food, bill-to-bill.

If eggs are lost early in the season, they will be replaced.

Fun facts

  • Falcons have been known to steal twigs from these ravens’ nests as building material for their nests.
  • The great spotted cuckoo parasitises these nests. The cuckoo chicks would be raised with their chicks.


Crows and Ravens are known as the most intelligent birds on earth. Scientists have tested corvids by showing them how to get food with a stick. The corvids have kept this in their memory banks and started doing this on their own even a day later. In Science Alert, I have been reading several tests carried out on crows and ravens to prove their intelligence.

This has been attributed to the size of their brains to their body size, known as the encephalisation quotient. (EQ).

Great examples of their intelligence are shown with some of their hunting Techniques.

  • Tortoise hunting – To open the tortoise’s shells, the tortoises are carried in their feet or bills to a suitable anvil.  These tortoises would be dropped from a height of about 15m onto the rocks below. The ravens would then swoop down and eat these tortoises. If not successful, they would attempt the drop again.
  • Domestic eggs – They would also collect domestic hens’ eggs and carry them horizontally in their bills to trees. There, they would tap and crack them against a branch to open and eat the contents.
Wwhite Necked Raven Standing

Conservation Status

The White-necked Ravens are generally classified as “Least Concern” with the IUCN. The current population is decreasing, but their overall numbers are good. In Northern Kenya, there, too, have been sharp declines of White-necked Ravens. Poisoned carcasses have been spread around for all predators of cattle and sheep.

Their numbers have also dwindled in Zimbabwe. The other issue is that in South Africa, the small stock farmers are destroying the ravens and their nests because of their “bad” habits of lamb killing.

In all this, White-necked Ravens persist in good numbers throughout their current range and are non-threatened.

The one good thing about White-necked Ravens is that they are not susceptible to electrical pylons like crows, as they do not use these or telephone poles as nest sites.

Wwhite Necked Raven in Flight

Interesting differences between Crows and Ravens

I wanted to briefly discuss this as these two types of birds are quite easily mixed up. There are four main differences between Ravens and crows.

  • Ravens are larger.
  • Ravens’ bills are a lot bigger and deeper.
  • Ravens, when flying, have a more wedge-shaped tail than the crow’s fan type.
  • Ravens have a more soaring flight pattern, and Crows flap much more.


So, if you find yourself in the Eastern part of Africa, amongst high cliffs, or hiking in deep gorges, look for these highly intelligent birds soaring around the skies. Take the time to watch them and their habits. Remember to check the differences between crows and ravens while in flight to distinguish the difference; you can’t go wrong. Happy birding.

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