British Columbia

Rare white crow sightings excite Kootenay birdwatchers

Lisa Chabot saw a white-feathered crow on Monday and shared its photo with the internet. Several people in the region commented on her post, saying they'd seen it, too.

B.C. bird expert says 'leucistic' crows are not common

Glade, B.C., resident Lisa Chabot spotted a white crow in her neighbourhood on Monday. (Submitted by Lisa Chabot)

Lisa Chabot's sighting of a rare white crow this week has challenged the common assumption that all crows are black. 

Chabot, who lives in Glade, B.C., about 20 kilometres northwest of Castlegar, says she noticed something white fluttering among a group of black crows in her neighbourhood on Monday.

"He's exactly like a crow, but he's completely white — he's not an albino, he doesn't have the pink eyes, and his legs are white," Chabot, a ferry operator, told host Sarah Penton on CBC's Radio West.

"It's unreal, I can't believe it."

'Not a common phenomenon'

Chabot took a quick photo of the white crow and shared the image on social media, where she wrote that it was a "one in 10,000" chance to see that kind of bird. 

Her post triggered enthusiastic discussions among residents across West Kootenay who said they had also seen a white crow recently in surrounding communities like Slocan and Crescent Valley.

David Bradley, the B.C. director of bird conservation organization Birds Canada, says he hesitates to estimate the probability of spotting a white crow, but acknowledges he hasn't seen one over his past 35 years of bird watching.

"I'd be inclined to think that it's not a common phenomenon," he said.

Judging from Chabot's photo, Bradley believes the white crow is leucistic, meaning the animal has reduced black pigmentation in its feathers, but unlike an albino crow, it has normally coloured eyes.

He adds that white ravens, which are common on Haida Gwaii, are also leucistic. 

White ravens, common on Haida Gwaii, are leucistic, much like the crow spotted this week in the West Kootenay region. (North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre/Instagram)

"It's sort of like albinism, but it's not full albinism," he said. "If a bird has a genetic abnormality or a mutation, then they have the inability to produce melanin, so when they grow feathers, they grow in white."

Bradley says leucism could pose serious challenges to a crow's survival.

"They may get picked on by other crows or they may be more visible to predators," he said. "Prey might become alerted to it, especially if it's white."

Bradley noted that people in B.C.'s Lower Mainland reported sightings of a leucistic crow last year. Over the past several years, Vancouver Island residents also spotted an albino crow and a white raven.

A woman in Glade snapped a photograph of the rare white crow. A bird expert weighs in

With files from Radio West