Anchorage’s white raven achieves celebrity status, inspiring art, lore and adulation

An “Anchorage White Raven Spottings” Facebook group has amassed close to 13,000 followers.

If you want to find Anchorage’s white raven, follow the paparazzi.

On Wednesday afternoon, as the raven touched down on a light pole off Fireweed Lane, no fewer than five photographers emerged. Leaning out the windows of idling vehicles and trudging around snowbanks, they pointed their long lenses skyward while the bird swooped off.

One was Andrea Slemmons of Port Townsend, Washington. Slemmons flew up for a two-day visit to Anchorage, solely to see the white raven. She’s photographed hummingbirds in Ecuador and rainbow lorikeets in Australia, but ravens are a favorite. She has one tattooed on her upper left arm.

This raven, Slemmons said, is “spectacular.”

“Once-in-a-lifetime, really. What are the chances you are going to see something like that?” she said, beaming, as a friend drove the alleys of Spenard, back on the hunt for the corvid.

“... There it is!”

The white raven was now poking around an apartment complex’s trash bin, along with some black-feathered friends. Slemmons clapped. “Look at that!”

Other photographers and onlookers were already there. Jennifer Stafford, a teacher from Eagle River, was in town for an appointment, and hustled over after getting a Facebook tip on the raven’s location. “I’m super excited,” she said. It was her first time seeing it.


Since the white raven soared into the city this fall, it has quickly entered the ranks of legendary Anchorage animals — joining, among others, Buzzwinkle the moose, Star the reindeer, and Binky the polar bear. A Facebook group, “Anchorage White Raven Spottings,” has amassed close to 13,000 followers since its inception in October.

Crystal Law of Palmer, the Facebook group’s creator and a self-described “bird nerd,” said she’s been blown away by its popularity. She’s had to recruit her son and daughter-in-law to help moderate.

“The main reason I started the group was a little selfish, honestly,” Law said. After her own magical first encounter with the white raven, she and her family simply wanted to find it again.

At the time, she thought “even if we had like 100 people looking for the bird, hey, it’s better than nothing,” Law said.

Today, the “White Raven Spottings” Facebook group serves as a message board for thousands. Photos and tips roll in by the minute.

“Was just at Arctic then flew towards Spenard Roadhouse.”

“Around 1:30 by the parking lot by Koots.”

“On top of 1057 fireweed.”

“Spotted in the alley behind drift salon!”

Members also use the group to share raven-inspired art, and sell merch: A quick scroll down the page reveals white raven photo prints, white raven paintings, white raven collages, white raven coasters, white raven keychains, white raven calendars, white raven Christmas ornaments and a variety of white raven earrings.

Biologists say the white raven is a genuinely uncommon creature. It’s not albino, but leucistic, evidenced by its sky-blue eyes. Given its rarity, it’s likely the same white raven that was first spotted on the Kenai Peninsula this summer.

If you track it down, you’ll find the white raven is now the color of an Anchorage snowbank in spring — which is to say, not super white. Its tail feathers appear ragged. It spends its days bopping around strip malls, dumpsters and parking lots. It eats garbage. It’s been photographed with a cigarette butt in its beak.


But for locals, the fact that the white raven is rough around the edges adds to its appeal. On social media, filmmaker Cale Green shared a photo of the bird perched on a satellite dish, gazing out on Tudor Road’s commercial strip, a Wendy’s sign glowing in the background.

“Best picture yet,” replied an account for a car dealership.

“So Anchorage,” replied public radio reporter Liz Ruskin.

Even so, the white raven maintains its mystique. People can’t help but seek meaning in it. When it first got to Anchorage this fall, people guessed the raven was a harbinger of a big winter. Several snowstorms later, it’s been blamed for Anchorage’s big winter, too.

The white raven holds special meaning for Alaska Native people, according to Rosita Worl, a Tlingit anthropologist and president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute.

“There is definite excitement in the Native community throughout Alaska in seeing White Raven, reconfirming for Native Peoples Raven’s trickster nature and his transformation capabilities,” Worl said in an email.


Oral tradition holds that Raven was white to begin with, “but through his antics he was transformed into a Black Raven,” Worl said.

“Seeing White Raven today confirms both his trickster and culture hero nature, bringing benefits to the human world — including laughter and humor.”

There are downsides to the white raven’s celebrity status — at one point, it fell victim to fake news. An internet troll posted a picture of a dead white raven, splayed and bloodied, to the raven spottings Facebook group, claiming it was “no longer with us.” The post was quickly debunked; the photo was sourced from a news article about a different white raven, shot to death in Greenland back in 2013.

But the hoax played into the collective concern about the white raven’s well-being. Biologists have pointed out that in the natural world, it can be dangerous to stick out from the crowd.

In some instances, a white animal of a species that’s not evolved to be white can be more vulnerable to predation, said Rick Sinnott, a retired wildlife biologist for the state who spent years studying ravens. In the case of sometimes-predatory ravens, being white can be unhelpful while tracking down a live meal, he said.

Being white may also make it the target of bullying, though not necessarily. Rather than a sign of getting picked on, Sinnott said the raven’s tail may be tattered because white feathers tend to be weaker than black ones, leading to more wear and tear.


Now that the white raven has made it to adulthood, Sinnott believes it has a fighting chance at a good, long raven life. “They can live several decades without too much of a stretch,” he said.

Its steady diet of garbage is standard — and beneficial — for an Anchorage raven in winter, Sinnott said, providing fat and protein to keep it warm. And while ravens in other environments can be wary of humans, as an urban bird, the white raven is probably pretty tolerant of people, he said.

Sinnott said Anchorage white raven fans shouldn’t be too concerned if they don’t see it around this spring.

“It may disappear, but it’s not because it died in a gutter somewhere,” Sinnott said. “Because my guess is, it’s off someplace else.”

Many ravens relocate to Anchorage from various parts of the state in about mid-October, he said, to spend the winter months feasting on the city’s dumpsters. And they often leave the city to nest when it warms up, he said.

But come next winter, Sinnott said, if it doesn’t find better pickings elsewhere, there’s a good chance Anchorage’s white raven will return.

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Elizabeth Harball

Elizabeth Harball is a local/state news editor for the Anchorage Daily News and host of the ADN Politics podcast. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for Alaska Public Media / Alaska's Energy Desk covering the oil industry and other topics, and previously was a reporter for E&E News in Washington, D.C.