The Spirit Ravens of Qualicum Beach

Raven used to be the most beautiful of birds. He had feathers like pure white snow and his song was bright and magical. Yet, he lost it all because of Man, who brought fire burning on a branch. His beautiful feathers grew black from the falling soot. His enchanting voice became hoarse from the smoke and his legs became hard and scaled from the heat. Although his purity was gone forever, blessed is Raven who continues to provide a light in the darkness. – Native American proverb

We’ve all heard of the black raven, but rare sightings of a white version of the bird now have birding enthusiasts flocking to the island in hopes of spotting one.

Qualicum Beach, a beach and town on Vancouver Island British Columbia, has been home to rare white ravens for the past few years. This year, at least one new white raven has hatched, prompting birders to flock to the seaside paradise.

When most of us think of a raven, black immediately comes to mind. White ravens are the result of the mating of two common ravens with the same genetic defect. The same pair could produce many generations of white ravens, since common black ravens are monogamous and long-lived. See our previous post on why crows aren’t black.

Vancouver Island’s Qualicum Beach seems to be a special place, with white Ravens showing up every year for the past ten years as reported the Vancouver Sun. This year there is only one new white raven that has been seen, but that hasn’t stopped birders.

Mike Yip, a 66-year-old retired school teacher, heard reports of a sighting in the Qualicum Beach area. Armed with nothing more deadly than a Nikon D300 and his own curiosity, he went in pursuit of an elusive quarry. Mr. Yip was born in Duncan to a sawmill worker. He graduated with a science degree from the University of British Columbia in the centennial year. To his surprise, he wound up spending his working life in a classroom, teaching math and English at elementary, middle, secondary and alternative schools. The final quarter century of his career was spent in Parksville.He put aside his chalk in 2001, planning to spend his days on the golf course. But a chance encounter two years later changed his life.

“I came across a strange duck that I’d never seen before,” he said. “I spent two hours watching that duck trying to figure out what it was. I went home and got my old camera. From then on I just wanted to find every bird around and get as good a picture as I could.”

He has now seen five white ravens at Qualicum in the past three years.

White ravens are very special to the Haida. One British Columbia village which had a white raven resident memorialized the bird after it died, preserving it and displaying it at the Port Clements museum. Learn more about this lore here.

The Qualicum Beach area is home to over 200 species of birds through the summer season. White Raven sightings generate a great deal of excitement, as described in a 2002 article from the Fairbanks Daily News. Three fledglings,  all white Ravens, were rescued recently in the United Kingdom and are said to be faring well, the Daily Mail reported Monday.