Beano is “a typical crow,” according to Irene Davy, who runs the Gibsons Wildlife Rehab Centre with her husband. “He’s mischievous, he’s cheeky, he’s loud,” she said, “But he is really good.”
Beano is also really rare, because he is albino.
The crow has been living at the rehabilitation centre for nearly a year after he was plucked from the ocean last August, where he was observed to be drowning.
Albinism is an uncommon genetic mutation that results in a complete lack of pigment anywhere in the body, including hard and soft tissues.
Kaeli Swift, who studies crows as a post doctoral researcher at the University of Washington, said she is aware of only one likely albino crow in recent history – a bird spotted in 2014 in Seattle. In 2008, an albino crow was spotted in East Vancouver.
Last July a white raven was seen on Vancouver Island, but it is not a true albino. The Davys, who have run the rehabilitation centre for 30 years and cared for nearly 10,000 creatures, have encountered only one other white bird – a starling that lived only a couple of days – and it likely wasn’t albino.
Poor eyesight is common among those with albinism, and that’s true of Beano, who was taken to Sechelt Animal Hospital for an assessment shortly after his rescue and was deemed unreleasable. The Davys now have a permit to keep him in their care.
“He does sometimes clatter to the floor and he needs his mum to come rescue him,” said Irene Davy, describing Beano’s vision problems. “I have to get him off the floor and point him to his perch.”
Near drowning and near blindness haven’t been Beano’s only setbacks. The person who rescued him reported that he was under attack by crows or ravens.
Swift said it’s difficult to speculate what happened to Beano without knowing which birds were involved in the incident, but if crows or ravens were involved, they likely weren’t in it for the kill.
“It’s a myth that crows and ravens will just outright execute albino crows and birds,” said Swift, who knows of at least two caramel-coloured crows in the Seattle area that have mated and produced offspring. “There just isn’t this outright threat and vitriol extended towards these unique crows by the rest of the crow community.”
Nevertheless some kind altercation did force the rescue. And Beano was not alone. Two weeks after Beano was rescued, the Davys got another surprise.
Someone called in about a “ruckus up a tree,” only to witness a white crow fall to the ground. “I thought, it’s not going to be another white crow, the coincidence is ridiculous,” said Davy.
In this case, the second albino crow suffered several punctures to its head from the other birds and did not survive the attack.
Both crows were found in Gibsons, within four or five blocks of each other.
According to Swift, albino crows tend to be lower on the pecking order. “In my experience, which is fairly limited because these birds don’t happen that often, they do tend to be a little more subordinate to other birds,” she told Coast Reporter.
Davy paints another picture of the rambunctious Beano, however. “He likes to be the boss,” she said. “If there’s a pigeon or something sitting next to him, he edges his way to it and then he pecks it and the pigeon flies off.”
He has also reportedly deployed scatological tactics.
Volunteers at the centre say he deliberately waits until pigeons land under his perch, “and then he poops on them,” said Davy.
“Now and again, they’ll come through and say, ‘That Beano, he did it again!’”
The crow will remain in captivity with two other long-term animals, a barred owl named Dexter and a tiny saw-whet owl named Woody, both of which make public appearances at schools for educational purposes.
“I just find it interesting when anyone sees Beano, how he makes them smile,” said Davy, who calls him the “ambassador of the crows.”
“Lots of people dislike crows and they don’t realize how intelligent these birds are. I like to try to educate people that… he’s still a crow and the black crow’s life is as precious to it as Beano’s is to him.”
Listen to an interview with Irene featuring Beano on Coast Reporter Radio at www.coastreporter.net/audio