(too-loo-gak): Inuktitut (the language of Inuit) word meaning raven

Jonathan Churcher

Inuvik, NT

I am a video producer and in the fall of 1997, I received a call from a Toronto firm which was making a video about ravens, and which included coverage of a white raven which lived on the Queen Charlotte Islands. The producer asked me to get shots of black ravens and as I had already done a short about ravens in my community (Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, 40 miles north of Victoria), I knew exactly where to look. When possible, I like to visit a site without a camera before I start to take pictures. This gives me the chance to experience the environment from a naturalist’s point of view and not through the technological filter of a video camera. The best place to view ravens in the valley is at a gravel pit, which borders a landfill. The ravens are attracted to the landfill for food and they like the gravel pit because it gives them a wonderful place to congregate and also offer powerful updrafts. I would estimate that 100 ravens call the landfill/gravel pit their home. On the first day of my initial visit to the area, I saw what I thought was a white crow. It was flying at quite a high altitude, and as there have been sightings of white crows in the area for years, I figured it must be one of them. The next day I saw the bird again, but this time it was much closer and I definitely identified it as a white raven. At that time, there were only three known white ravens in North America, one in Oregon, one in Nova Scotia, and the previously-mentioned white raven on Queen Charlotte Islands. I was absolutely amazed at the realization that I had stumbled upon this extremely rare raven. Most scientists and naturalists who have studied ravens for decades have never seen such a bird. I immediately phoned the producer in Toronto and as a result of this startling find, the main character of the documentary, a ravenologist, immediately came to the site. We were able to get lots of great footage of the white raven, including some which featured the raven expert and the white bird in the same frame. Through the binoculars, we could see that the eyes of the bird were pink so the raven must have been an albino. The black ravens never gave the white one a moment’s rest. They would constantly surround it, shouting and yelling and charging it, whether it was on the ground or perched in a tree. It was obvious that the ravens had ostracized the white bird and its only friends were the seagulls with whom it could hang out. A few weeks later, his socializing came to an end, as the raven was bothered by both its own kind and the gulls. The landfill operator told me that one day the white raven simply stopped appearing at the site and had not been seen since. Considering that winter was about to arrive, the best guess is that the raven did not survive the cold, damp weather. The landfill technician added that the white raven’s time at the site was no longer than six weeks, which meant that the chances of my finding it during the time of shooting the video, were extremely slim; this is probably the most significant synchronistic event of my life, professional or otherwise. The producers also sent me to Queen Charlotte Islands where the second white raven lived. The plan was to get only scenic and landscape shots and not to bother about the raven as the main film crew had got lots of pictures during a previous shoot. After arriving at Port Clements, where the raven had been adopted by the residents, I had about six hours to get the work completed and did my best to capture the atmosphere of the village and surrounding countryside. I had taken all the pictures I could possibly imagine could be used by the editors when my assistant, a local naturalist, suggested we try to find the white raven. Within 15 minutes, we located it in a recently logged area. As the raven is very tame, being used to nibbling food supplied by the locals, I was able to get very close to it. At one point, I was sitting on the ground, camera raised to my shoulder and shooting while the bird strutted and talked less than six feet away. I was able to get some extremely close shots of its head and eyes, one of which was used in the opening sequence of the video. The last I heard of this raven was that it died of electrocution when it landed on a live electrical wire. The curator of the local museum now displays the stuffed carcass in a nearby town.