The White Ravens of Qualicum Beach

By in Animals
White raven on a branch, showing its blue eyes and pink beak.
white raven juvenile calling
close up of white raven head
two white ravens interacting
two white ravens on a tree trunk
white raven flying
white ravens together with black ravens
white raven foraging in the grass

Qualicum Beach is just an ordinary beach town on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. What is unusual though is that a considerable number of white ravens have been sighted in the area for well over a decade. Yes that’s right, not even just one white raven but a whole number of them! The white condition is a result of a very rare genetic disorder called leucism, which is reduced pigmentation rather than complete albinism. Leucism is extremely rare in itself, let alone being a characteristic of a whole group of birds.

In most cases, leucistic and albinistic animals have a pretty large disadvantage, foremost in terms of being targeted by predators. Therefore, the likelihood of their leucistic genes passing to the next generation is relatively small. However, such genetic disorders are much more likely to be passed on by incestuous matings. As this is not unheard of in corvids, this may potentially explain the existence of this unique population of white ravens.

The great photos above of the unique birds were taken by Mike Yip, an enthusiastic birder in the area. Indeed, asking him more about this special group of birds he explains that the two initial white ravens formed a pair already more than a decade ago and have been producing many generations of white ravens ever since, with at least 1 to 3 white birds each year. Nevertheless, the white ravens apparently do seem to have a disadvantage by not living as long or having as high breeding success as their black cousins, so it is not clear how long the population of white ravens of Qualicum Beach will be able to persist.

Note: This post was originally published on Mudfooted.com in February 2016, but was part of a selection of my favourite posts to reappear on Mudfooted and rewritten and published in Dec 2018.

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Beautiful patterns of tree roots among the circular stones of the pavement near one of Bankok