Throughout human history, the raven has been a powerful symbol and a popular subject of mythology and folklore. One of the largest corvids, the raven is known for their jet black appearance and their unusual caw, and their high intelligence. The birds also have a long lifespan and can live up to 21 years in the wild. They mate for life and are found throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
As a subject of myths and legends, ravens are often depicted as extremely clever and resourceful animals. One legend talks of how ravens were once white and helped humans (and the earth) get fire before they were turned black by the flames.
It seems the legend of the white raven has come to life on a coastal beach on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.
A population of white ravens have been seen over the past decade around Qualicum Beach. Local photographer Mike Yip has been fortunate enough to have spotted the birds several times of the years and taken photographs of the family of birds that are as enchanting as they are fascinating.
He shared how he came to learn of the unique birds and some of his wonderful pictures with Reshareworthy.com.
Mike Yip first became aware of white ravens in the early 2000’s when a golfer told him about seeing them at a course near Qualicum Beach.
When he became interested in bird photography in 2004, he shared his photos on his website and with local newspapers.
“As a result I soon established the reputation of the local ‘birdman’ and people started contacting me about strange bird sightings,” Yip told Reshareworthy.com.
In 2007 he receivied a call that someone had spotted two white ravens on her property. When he arrived, he spotted the two white birds foraging in the field. “At first I thought they were chickens, but when I focussed my camera, I saw that they were WHITE RAVENS,” said Yip. “I was so excited that I almost forgot to take some photos.”
“After a few distant record shots I tried to get closer, but the birds were quite wary and flew off to the nearby forest and and joined their black siblings.”
The next year he received another call from a friend, who had seen the elusive white birds. He waited patiently near where they were spotted with his camera in hand.
“Suddenly a large white bird landed in a tree close to me. There was no mistaking the white raven,” he said.
“Again I was trembling with excitement as I focussed my camera and held my breath for a few shots. I was worried that the bird would fly, but unlike my first experience this bird showed no signs of fear. I approached as close as I wanted and took shots from every angle for about ten minutes then stopped just to watch in amazement.”
“I had taken over a hundred photos and knew I had some good shots. I didn’t think I could do better until I heard a parade of cawing and the rush of wings. Suddenly three black ravens and another white one flew in and landed right in front of me. The lone white raven in the tree quickly joined them on the sandy hillside.”
“The ravens were oblivious of my presence while they played a variety of games to amuse themselves right beside me,” Yip described. “For an hour I sat next to them taking photos and enjoying their antics.”
“I was in a world of photographic bliss, but there was more – it was an indescribable moment of communion with nature, and I was just another member of the unique raven family.”
“As far as I can figure, the white ravens were the offspring of a pair of Common Ravens that have been producing at least one or two white offspring for over 15 years and are probably near the end of their breeding lives.”
“If the white ravens all survived sightings and reports would be common, but sightings have been few and far between suggesting that most white ravens do not survive.”
“In 2008 one of the white ravens ended up at the local recovery centre and eventually died of abnormal kidney or other internal problems. As albinos they would also have weaker eyesight and less durable feathers which may also impede their chances of survival.”
Technically, the ravens have a very rare genetic disorder called leucism, rather than albinism. The condition causes a reduced pigmentation.
Yip shared another origin story of the white raven on his website, one that dates back to the birth of the planet.
According to Native American legend, Raven was originally white and had a beautiful voice. Unfortunately, the Gods were unhappy with the greed and corruption on earth and decided to take away the fire. Without heat, the earth was turning into a frigid hell.
Raven volunteered to fly to the sun and bring back the fire. Up he flew with a branch in his bill. As he neared the sun his feathers were all singed and his larynx was half-cooked, but the branch ignited.
Raven returned to earth a hero, but became shy and reclusive because of his blackened feathers and the loss of his beautiful voice.
From that day on, all Ravens were black, but occasionally a white offspring is born to remind everyone of the great sacrifice made by Raven.
All photographs published with permission of Mike Yip.
Enjoy more of Mike’s photography at Vancouver Island Birds.
What fascinating animals – Nature is truly a treasure. If you enjoyed these amazing photographs be sure to share them with your family and friends.