An unusual white raven has been seen repeatedly around Anchorage in recent days, captivating birders, photographers and amateur wildlife enthusiasts.
“It looks like a leucistic bird, so a bird that’s lacking melanin in its feathers,” said Lisa Pajot, a volunteer with a local avian rehabilitation organization, Bird TLC, who spent 20 years working as a bird biologist.
The condition is slightly different from albinism, marked by full white cover and red eyes. The raven spotted in Midtown Anchorage this week has blue eyes, indicative of leucism, a lack of melanin pigments in some or all feathers.
“It is fairly rare,” Pajot said of the condition.
Some experts believe it’s the same bird that was spotted this summer on the Kenai Peninsula. A July story from public radio station KDLL quoted a Kenai photographer who said he first saw a raven chick with white chest feathers hatched in a group of seven in June. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge posted about the animal on Facebook that month, noting its blue irises and calling its appearance “truly a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.”
“This is the only time I have ever heard of a white raven or seen pictures of a white raven,” said Riley Woodford, a public information officer with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, of this year’s specimen.
Woodford had heard of a fully leucistic robin once in Juneau, but never a raven.
“A white raven is rarer than a black swan,” said Rick Sinnott, a former Anchorage-area wildlife biologist for the state, using a phrase that stands in for an extremely rare event.
He said seeing one is uncommon, but noted that many leucistic animals are likely born in the wild and perish without humans ever taking note, either succumbing normally to the elements or from predation.
“They’re odd, they’re different,” Sinnott said. “So if you’re the odd bird in a flock … if you’re white and everything else is dark, you become the object of attention.”
Sinnott said ravens often move closer into towns and places where there’s more food or trash to scavenge as winter approaches, particularly in the month of October.
He believes “it’s very likely” the white raven spotted in Anchorage this week could be the same one that hatched on the Peninsula earlier this summer.