Pied Crow (Corvus albus)

Cover image: Pied Crow by Trevor Hardaker – BirdPix 16860


The Pied Crow is an unmistakable, vocal and conspicuous species, unlikely to be overlooked or misidentified. Pied Crows get their name due to their pied plumage. Pied means having two or more colours, and in this case, it is black and white.

As its name suggests, its glossy black head and neck are interrupted by a large area of white feathering from the shoulders down to the lower breast. Their eyes are dark brown and their legs, feet and bill are black. The bill is long and slightly hooked. Both sexes are similar and have no differences in their plumage.

Identification of Pied Crow
Main photo – BirdPix 79602 – Karis Daniel, Hanover, Northern Cape, 25 May 2019. Inset photo – BirdPix 91000 – Alexander Wirth, Camps Bay, Western Cape, 14 July 2019.


It occurs across most of sub-Saharan Africa, but is absent from, or rare, in the central and western forests. It has become prolific, its numbers and range are expanding especially in the Karoo region of South Africa as can be seen in the SABAP2 distribution map below.

SABAP2 distribution map for Pied Crow
SABAP2 distribution map for Pied Crow, downloaded 07 November 2022. Details for map interpretation can be found here.

The contrast between being abundant in the wheat-growing area north of Cape Town (the Swartland) and scarce on the wheat-growing area east of Cape Town (the Overberg) is striking. This contrast is thought to be diet-related, but has not been explained. In fact the overall pattern of the distribution remains a puzzle. If you compare this distribution map with that of the Cape Crow, there are areas where either one of the two species predominates, areas where they both occur, and areas where neither occurs.


Pied Crows prefer open savanna woodland, bushy shrubland, and grassland with scattered trees. It is becoming more and more common in farmland, urban, and suburban areas. They are highly adaptive and don’t mind foraging in villages, towns, and cities and often visit rubbish dumps and bins.

Habitat for Pied Crow
A pair of Pied Crows in Karoo shrubland habitat – BirdPix 91392 – Les Underhill, De Doorns, Western Cape, 07 September 2019.


The Pied Crow is an omnivorous bird. It mainly feeds on plant material such as fruit and seeds, but also readily eats reptiles (such as tortoises), small mammals, fish, insects and other birds.

Pied Crows are usually seen in pairs or small groups, but they can congregate in large numbers at communal roosts or at good food sources, e.g. refuse dumps and large mammal carcasses.

Corvus albus
Pied Crows and a Lappet-faced Vulture feeding on a carcass – BirdPix 13715 – John Fincham, Opuwo, Namibia, 23 September 2013.

During breeding, both the female and the male construct the nest, which is a large bowl made of twigs, sometimes including bits of wire. The nest is then lined with fur, dry dung, rags or sheep wool. It is usually placed in the vertical fork of a tall tree, such as a pine, Eucalyptus, cypress or palm. It also commonly places it on the top of a telephone pole, especially in more open areas, such as the Karoo.

Pied Crow nest on telephone pole
Pied Crow at its nest on a telephone pole – BirdPix 26220 – Les Underhill, Lamberts Bay, Western Cape, 28 April 2016.

Further Resources

Species text from the First Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997.

Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).

More common names: Witborskraai (Afrikaans); Igwangwa (Xhosa); iGwababa (Zulu); Corbeau Pie (French); Schildrabe (German); Schildraaf (Dutch).

Recommended citation format: Loftie-Eaton M and Daniel KA 2022. Pied Crow Corvus albus. Bird Feeder Project. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available Online at http://thebdi.org/2022/11/08/pied-crow-corvus-albus/

Bird Feeder Project: Karis Daniel & Megan Loftie-Eaton
Bird Feeder Project: Karis Daniel & Megan Loftie-Eaton
The Bird Feeder Project is a BDI citizen science initiative involving school learners and youth eco-clubs. Learners are taught a scientific protocol for doing 10-minute watches and recording the species they see, in the order they see them. The Bird Feeder Project includes an online identification guide to about 30 of the species seen in gardens in Cape Town. Students will learn how to upload their cellphone photos into the BirdPix section of the Virtual Museum, where they will be curated for posterity. The 10-minute watches will rapidly grow into a valuable monitoring database. Karis Daniel is the Project Coordinator and put together the identification guide, Megan Loftie-Eaton helped with the species texts.