ANCHORAGE — Marnie Jones and her husband made it all the way home from the South Anchorage Costco before they realized they’d been robbed.
“We had bought a four-pack of filet mignon steak,” Jones said. “It was on the bottom of the cart, and he was pushing it through the bumpy snow.”
When they reached their vehicle, the meat slid onto the ground. Her husband turned his back to load groceries before realizing the pack had slipped. When they got home and put everything away, he noticed he was one steak short.
Then, it clicked.
“He said, ‘Oh my God, after I picked up that pack of steaks, I saw a raven in the parking lot with a steak in his mouth,’ ” Jones said.
They’re not the only ones to lose groceries to ravens at the Dimond Boulevard store.
Olani Saunoa was finishing a shopping trip there last winter, buckling her baby in a car seat. That’s when a raven swooped in and swiped some short ribs from her cart.
“He had picked up the entire package of short ribs, like flying away with it,” Saunoa said.
The same thing happened this spring — only this time, it was more than one, and they chose a different cut of meat.
“I’ve been here my entire life, dealt with the ravens, but never ever had this happen to me, ever,” Saunoa said. “The first time we thought, ‘Once in a lifetime kind of thing, this is never going to happen again.’ But sure enough a year later, same Costco. This year, it was a pack of pork ribs that they had gotten into.”
Last month, Matt Lewallen was packing his purchases into his car and lost a single short rib from his cart.
“They know what they’re doing; it’s not their first time,” Lewallen said. “They’re very fat so I think they’ve got a whole system there.”
When he drove home to make dinner, he noticed that the ravens had pecked one of the other ribs.
“I cut that meat out and started marinating it and my wife said, ‘That’s gross, we should take it back,'” Lewallen said. “Costco actually took it back even after we had started marinating them and gave us a full refund.”
Stories of the pilfering Costco ravens have spread on social media.
“My parents were minding their business after a shop and made it home with one less steak!” Kimberly Waller wrote on Facebook recently. “The bird snatched it right out of the pack in the parking lot.”
Anchorage resident Tamara Josey replied to Waller’s post, calling the ravens “calculating.” She had a similar experience about a month ago.
“I had two ravens, one that was on the car next to me and he kept squawking really loud,” Josey said in an interview. “He would sit on the car and stare at me, then hop next to the bed of the truck on the other side, and he kept going back and forth. The other raven was on the ground. He kept trying to pull — I had those little mini-melons you have in the mesh baggies — he kept trying to grab the netting and pull my melons off the cart.”
One of the ravens started to fly around Josey until she shooed them off.
“He was waiting for another opportunity to grab the melons off the cart, but they never were deterred,” she said. “They just stayed posted, waiting for their next opportunity to steal something out of my cart.
“They are very dedicated to their mission.”
A Dimond Costco manager declined to comment on the parking lot raven theft issue.
Rick Sinnott, a former Anchorage area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said hundreds of ravens fly to Anchorage from all over the state in the winter for food. When spring comes, most of them leave. In the past, Sinnott estimated the city’s winter raven population as a couple thousand.
The Anchorage Audubon Society counts birds every December. The group recorded 923 common ravens in 2018; 621 in 2019; and 750 in 2020. These include ravens that stay in the city year-round as well as birds from out of town.
As Anchorage has grown over the years, so has the amount of garbage, Sinnott said, making the city a hot spot for meat bandits.
“They’re not starving to death,” Sinnott said. “Ravens do very well in this city, but they much prefer — I would guess if I was thinking like a raven — a package of short ribs from Costco to half of a hamburger bun from McDonald’s.”
Sinnott said ravens are social learners, meaning they watch other birds to learn.
“That’s their niche in the world — that’s how they get around,” Sinnott said. “For years, decades, they’ve watched people in parking lots of grocery stores with all this food. They know what a piece of fruit looks like in a grocery cart because they’ve seen it on the ground or seen it in a garbage can.”