‘Like they had a plan’: Anchorage Costco customers share tales of raven thievery

Ravens approach Dimond Costco in Anchorage in March, 2021. Costco customers have recently started sharing experiences of thefts of their groceries as they leave the warehouse. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Costco customers in Anchorage have recently started sharing online reports of ravens stealing groceries from their carts and the backs of their pickups. Biologists say the behavior could spread around town quickly.

“Those ravens at Costco will go to Fred Meyer, and they’ll go to McDonald’s,” said Rick Sinnott, a former Fish and Game biologist. “They learn from watching other ravens, and they can learn very quickly.”

But he said there’s no need to worry about aggressive corvids attacking children, like in the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock thriller the birds.

“They’re pretty bold. They’re not aggressive, they’re just bold,” he said.

That doesn’t mean they can’t be a little scary. Tamara Josey is a frequent Costco shopper who would make several trips a week for the catering business she used to own. But a few months ago, as she walked out of Dimond Costco, she noticed the black birds looking at her differently.

“It was like they had a plan. And that’s how I felt it was like from the time I walked to my car,” she said.

The ravens were diving close by her as she pushed her cart through the lot. When she got to her car, one landed on the truck right next to her. It stared at her and started hopping back and forth over her head to another vehicle. And she realized another bird had landed on the ground in front of her.

“I got something out of the back of my van and threw it at the bird to get the bird to move away from my van. So he hopped a few steps. And then the other one flew back onto the truck bed next to me and squawked really loud. So all of a sudden, it was like a tag-team,” she said.

She said she felt the eyes of onlookers judging her for talking to these birds, but she was determined.

“I literally looked at this bird. And I was like, ‘if you come near my food, you’re going to be chicken,’” she said.

Eventually, the birds still made a move at the netting that held a few watermelons, but Josey ran around the cart and was able to ward them off. Still the experience left an impression.

“These are actually really big freaking birds,” she said. “Like I didn’t really realize how big ravens are, but they’re really big birds.”

Customer Cynthia Rufen-Blanchette saw a sneakier side of the birds. About a month ago, Rufen-Blanchette was finishing up a Costco trip. Her husband jumped in the driver’s seat after putting away the shopping cart, but their exit was blocked by a raven with a chunk of meat in its beak.

“The bird was not getting out of the way. He was still pulling the meat over. I laughed, I said, ‘That birds gonna risk his life for that piece of meat,’” she said.

Her husband, who was driving, eventually maneuvered around the bird. But when they got back to their South Port home and started unloading the groceries, Cynthia realized the joke was on them

“I said, ‘Danny, didn’t we have four steaks?’ He said ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Well there’s only three in here,” she said.

Luckily for them, the other pieces were salvageable. But thinking back on it, she said the ravens must have grabbed the meat through the cellophane wrapping in the few seconds it took her husband to push the cart back.

“It was really quick,” she said.

Sinnott said that while you don’t need to be afraid of the birds, it’s worth being conscious of the bacteria they carry. He said he wouldn’t eat anything that’s been touched by a raven.

“I’m not a doctor or an infectious disease specialist, but ravens do eat poop,” he said.

A manager at Costco said the company did not have a comment, but customers said that they’ve been able to return items if they’ve opened by ravens.

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