Photographer uncovers the white ravens of legend in west coast forest


The ravens have always been a symbol and a favoured subject of folklore and mythology. Also known as being one of the most intelligent birds, they can live up to 21 years in the wild and while this is unlikely through wildlife, they mate for life.

Often used as a subject of myths and legends, ravens are seen as really clever and resourceful creatures. 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.

Well, it turns out the legend of white raven has come to life on a coastal beach on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.  The wildlife photographer Mike Yip has spotted a population of rare white ravens around Qualicum Beach in early 2000’s.

Since then, Mike is trying to learn more about these unique birds. He shared first photos of the rare birds back in 2004 on his website.

“As a result I soon established the reputation of the local ‘birdman’ and people started contacting me about strange bird sightings.” he said.

In 2007 he received 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,” Yip said. “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.”

Despite he interacted with the legendary ravens, Mike couldn’t hide his enthusiasm every time he spotted a white raven.

“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.”

“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,” the photographer said.

According to bird experts, white ravens have a very rare condition called leucism, rather than albinism and it causes a reduced pigmentation.

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 photos credit Mike Yip