Table Mountain’s winged scavengers

Aug 22, 2012

A familiar sight when hiking on Table Mountain is the white-necked raven. They’re often seen gliding overhead, riding the thermals, uttering their croaky caw one of the most recognizable sounds on Table Mountain. On hot days in summer, with heat shimmering off the rocks and the mountain baking under a torrid sun, two sounds break the oppressive silence on the mountain: the screech of cicadas and the kraaaak-kraaaak of white-necked ravens spiraling in a cloudless sky.

 A white-necked raven gliding along the front edge of Table Mountain

Never really a raven lover, I was sort of won over the other day when I watched one amuse itself in mid-flight by dropping a stick and swooping down to catch it a meter or so lower down – not once, but several times. For such a large bird, it displayed remarkable aerial prowess. But what most amazed me was the fact that it was playing games with itself – not something you often see among birds.

Large and black with a white band on the nape of the neck, white-necked ravens are master scavengers and supreme opportunists, eating anything from carrion to seeds to hikers’ sandwiches. Farmers regard them as pests, as they will peck out the eyes of sickly and newborn lambs, thereby killing them. They also feed on young tortoises, dropping them from up high onto rocks to shatter their shell. On Table Mountain, they frequent the northern precipices (but occur all over the mountain), often hopping around on rocks, foraging for lizards or insects. Although deserving its fearsome reputation as a merciless scavenger, it has redeeming qualities like its capacity to play and its exceptional intelligence.

The beauty about hiking Table Mountain is not only the views, but learning some detail about nature and mountains that pleasantly surprises you.


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