In Praise of Canada’s National Bird

Not everyone is happy with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s nomination for our national bird. Last week, some Canadians shared disbelief and–at times–outrage in articles and online.

“I’ve never seen one.”

“What??!! Really??? Not the mighty loon?”

“Canada already has a national bird…the Canada geese.”

“That bird didn’t even win the popular vote!”

“So now we have an Electoral College of Ornithologists.”

“Why are we using American spelling for our bird?”

The back story…

In 2015, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society began its search for a national bird. Almost 50,000 votes were cast online, surprising the editorial staff of the Society’s Canadian Geographic Magazine.

Editor Aaron Kylie commented, “We had thousands of comments, and the comments aren’t just a sentence. They’re paragraphs, they are full pages and they are very impassioned, passionate, personal stories about people’s connections to a specific bird they wanted to put forward as the national bird.”

The top three birds…

Common Loon First Place - 13,995 votes

Common Loon
13,995 votes

Snowy Owl Second Place - 8,948 votes

Snowy Owl
8,948 votes

Gray Jay Third Place - 7,918 votes

Gray Jay
7,918 votes

After a public debate and deliberations by an expert panel, the third-place Gray Jay was selected as Canada’s official national bird. Next step: Federal Government approval.

The rationale…

Ornithologist David Bird pointed out that the loon is already Ontario’s provincial bird and the snowy owl is Quebec’s bird. He added, “My feeling is that when we chose the flag of Canada, we did not elevate the provincial flag from Ontario or Quebec…We chose something fresh and new. And that’s what I think we need to do with a national bird.”

About the Gray Jay…

• A robin-sized cousin of the raven and crow, the gray jay has the same brain-to-body ratio as dolphins and chimpanzees.

• Gray jays can be found in every province and territory of Canada. They live in the boreal forests and subalpine regions of the country so you won’t find them south of the 401. Instead, consider visiting Algonquin Park, the mountains in British Columbia, or the backwoods of Newfoundland or New Brunswick.

• Unlike Canadian geese and other birds that migrate south in the winter, gray jays live in Canada year-round. They thrive in winter and can incubate eggs in temperatures as low as minus 30 Celsius. Resilient and enterprising, they often bring up their young in cold and food-deprived conditions.

• Friendly and inquisitive, gray jays will approach and land on a human hand, hoping to find nourishment.

• Each fall, gray jays store thousands of morsels of food in different hiding places, and for months afterward they can remember the location of each cache. It’s not surprising they are often labelled the smartest birds on the planet.

My thoughts…

While reading and listening to all this bird talk, I couldn’t resist putting on my teacher hat. Gray jays remind me of the good students (not always A-students) who come to class each day, prepared and ready to learn. They don’t complain or throw tantrums when things don’t go their way. Instead, they adapt and make the best of changed circumstances. They may not win all the awards, but they are often short-listed.

Good students and Gray Jays get my vote!

Regarding American Spelling…

Gray Jay is the species’ official name. Journalistic publications must honor the proper names of birds and animals even when they conflict with Canadian spellings. (Grey is the Canadian/British spelling of Gray)

Or we could simply call the gray jay by its other name: Whiskey Jack, a name derived from Wisakedjak, a cultural hero and trickster of Cree and Algonquin cultures.

A closer look at Gray Jay aka Whiskey Jack…



4 responses to “In Praise of Canada’s National Bird

  1. Okay, I can’t vote since I’m American, but I do like that little, perky Gray Jay. The fact it doesn’t migrate and has all the perseverance of Canadians to live through cold weather and thrive makes it the perfect national bird!

    • Definitely agree! I’m disappointed with my fellow Canadians who are protesting the merits of this perky bird. Hopefully, the federal government will follow the recommendation of the expert panel. Thanks for dropping by, Noelle 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s