Friday mystery object #160 answer

On Friday I gave you this distinctive looking bird skull to identify:

On Twitter and Facebook there were incorrect suggestions of Toucan and Flamingo, but in the comments here Ric Morris dropped a heavy hint at the correct species identification within 6 minutes of the mystery object being posted, with hestridgesj and 23thorns also getting the right species a little later.

This skull was listed in the Horniman’s 1934 Natural History register as Corvultur abyssinicus, a species name that to the best of my knowledge has never been scientifically recognised. But the name suggests a vulture-like corvid from Abyssinia – or what is now called Egypt. This information plus the distinctive size and shape of the skull and bill led me to surmise that the specimen is from a Thick-billed Raven Corvus crassirostris Rüppell, 1836.

Corvus crassirostris from Album of Abyssinian birds and mammals by Louis Agassiz Fuertes.

These birds eat pretty much anything, from carrion to wheat. They are the largest of the passerine birds at over 1.5kg and although their bill is very distinctive, I can’t find much information on how they use it.

Their main diet is invertebrate larvae, which they often collect from dung by scattering it with their bill – so perhaps the laterally flattened bill helps with this. They are also often found scavenging alongside the similarly sized Hooded Vulture, so perhaps the heavy bill helps with breaking into larger carrion that the Hooded Vultures are unable to breach with their far more delicate bill.

Usually relationships like this depend on the weaker birds being much better at finding carrion in the first place – which holds true for the Hooded Vulture. This would mean that both species benefit from cooperation, even though they are competing for the same resources. Of course, this is speculation on my part as I’ve seen no data to demonstrate such a relationship between Thick-billed Ravens and Hooded Vultures as yet!

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