- Cape Crow
 - Cape Crow
 - Cape Crow
 - Cape Crow

Cape Crow Corvus capensis Scientific name definitions

Steve Madge
Version: 1.0 — Published March 4, 2020
Text last updated January 1, 2009

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Editor's Note: This is a shorter format account, originally published in HBW Alive. Please consider contributing your expertise to update and expand this account.


48–50 cm; 410–697 g. Large crow with distinctive head-and-bill shape (rather flat forecrown, slim pointed bill with gently decurved culmen, and prominent throat hackles); moderate-length tail with only slightly rounded tip. Plumage is entirely black, glossed with violet and green on upperparts, upperwing and tail, less intensely glossed with bronze on head and neck, with dull black underparts and underwing; with wear, plumage becomes less glossy, at times even quite brownish; iris dark brown; bill and legs black. Sexes alike. Juvenile is similar to adult, but plumage softer and dull sooty brown, although in fresh plumage some gloss on secondaries and tail feathers. Distinguished easily from C. edithae by slender bill and rather flat crown, as well as more squared tail tip. Races differ in size: kordofanensis is smaller than nominate, mean male wing length 321 mm (nominate mean 347 mm).

Systematics History

Editor's Note: This article requires further editing work to merge existing content into the appropriate Subspecies sections. Please bear with us while this update takes place.

Recent genetic studies (1, 2) failed to reveal any close relatives. Races geographically disjunct, but not well marked. Two subspecies recognized.



Corvus capensis capensis Scientific name definitions

from C Angola, W Zambia and Zimbabwe S to South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho; possibly also SW Mozambique.


Corvus capensis kordofanensis Scientific name definitions

E South Sudan, N Eritrea, most of Ethiopian highlands, N and SE Somalia, W and C Kenya and extreme N Tanzania; status in Uganda unclear (3).


Editor's Note: Additional distribution information for this taxon can be found in the 'Subspecies' article above. In the future we will develop a range-wide distribution article.


Occurs in open country with scattered trees, from moorland and alpine meadows, through farmland and acacia (Acacia) savanna to stands of riverine trees in semi-desert conditions; prime habitat seems to be upland farmland with scattered trees; in W Kenya mostly between 1200 m and 2500 m, and above 1800 in Ethiopia, whereas in coastal Somalia has been found almost at sea-level. S popula­tions can be found locally at sea-level (in SW & NE South Africa), but tend to occur mostly farther inland. In Zimbabwe, species restricted to C plateau above 900 m, occurring up to 2200 m.


Sedentary. A few records outside normal range (N Angola, S DRCongo and S Zambia) indicate propensity to wander; in South Africa, stragglers reported in C & W Free State well away from breeding areas in E.

Diet and Foraging

Omnivorous. Various roots, seeds and grain, including maize and peanuts, small bulbs (e.g. Cyperus), fruits and berries (Scutia, Royena and Opuntia). Major component of diet invertebrates, particularly insects such as beetles (Coleoptera), grasshoppers and locusts (Orthoptera) and termites (Isoptera), including their larvae and pupae; also centipedes (Chilopoda), millipedes (Diplopoda) and worms (Annelida). Also small vertebrates, i.e. frogs, lizards, rodents and bird eggs and nestlings. Said rarely to kill newborn lambs or sickly sheep, and may sometimes feed on carrion, including dried flesh from dead fur seals (Arctocephalus). Forages on ground, alone or in pairs, walking with long strides, sometimes hopping; parties and small flocks develop, occasionally containing as many as 200 or even 1000 individuals, these likely unmated non-breeding birds. Digs vigorously in soil with bold backward-stabbing action or gentler probing; turns over animal droppings, and sometimes alights on back of grazing animal to search for ectoparasites. Also reported instance of an individual hovering over clutch of Ostrich (Struthio camelus) eggs and dropping stones to break them. Food-hoarding observed; buries food scraps in sand, returning later to retrieve them. Despite its varied diet, and unlike many other crows, seems to shun rubbish dumps and towns, although readily follows ploughing tractors. Flies with deep, measured beats, appearing less agile than C. albus, and rarely soars. Non-breeders form roosts of 30–50 birds, exceptionally as many as 600.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

Harsh cawing "kraa-kraa-kraa" uttered at variety of pitches and speeds, from short, rising, rasped "kraa" to longer rising "krooaah", a series of calls perhaps terminating with downslurred "krooaaauw". Often calls from roadside pole, bowing with erected throat hackles, giving gurgling "gwurrr" followed by sharp "tik". Also produces a variety of gurgling and bubbling sounds both in display flight and when perched, these rendered variously as "kwollop, kwollop..." or "gloglogloglog...".


Laying season varies with onset of local rains, breeding reported Dec–Feb in Sudan, Feb–May in Eritrea and Ethiopia, Mar–Apr and Dec in Kenya, and Mar–Dec in Somalia; in S of range laying chiefly Aug–Dec, a little later (Sept–Jan) in Botswana; sometimes double-brooded. Monogamous, probably with lifelong pair-bond. Solitary nester. Nest probably wholly built by female, an untidy mass of sticks, cup lined with wool, feathers, fur and dried dung, placed 2–24 m above ground in tree fork, in tall thicket, on telegraph pole, in artesian windmill and similar, rarely on cliff ledge; nest repaired each year for reuse; territory c. 60 ha. Clutch 1–6 eggs, mostly 4; incubation by both sexes, period 18–19 days; chicks fed by both parents, nestling period 36–39 days; young remain with parents for first 6 months. Nests occasionally parasitized by Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius).

Not globally threatened. Common and widespread, but somewhat localized, over extensive range. No population estimates made, but density in optimum habitat 1 pair/5 km2. Accused of killing newborn lambs in parts of South Africa, where consequently deemed a local nuisance, especially in Great Karoo, where c. 50% of farmers "control" this corvid's numbers by shooting, poisoning and nest destruction.

Distribution of the Cape Crow
  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding
Distribution of the Cape Crow

Recommended Citation

Madge, S. (2020). Cape Crow (Corvus capensis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.capcro2.01