The Gray Jay

Smart, tough, friendly: Geographic society bids gray jay as national bird

Following a two-year search, Canada's national bird has been chosen.

A two-year-long, Canada-wide search has resulted in the gray jay – also known as the whiskey jack – being chosen as Canada’s national bird by the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.

The robin-sized gray jay, which is found in every province and territory but only in Canada, is being lauded by the society as a reflection of Canadians’ best qualities: smart, tough and friendly.

The whiskey jack’s common name doesn’t come from booze, but from the original Cree and Algonquin languages in which it was celebrated as a friendly and clever herald of good fortune.

The gray jay beat out higher profile contenders including the common loon, snowy owl and black-capped chickadee in a contest that garnered national attention and attracted almost 50,000 online voters.

The gray jay actually came third in voting behind the loon and the snowy owl, but was chosen following a public debate and deliberations by a panel of experts.

The federal government has not committed to naming a national bird – let alone the gray jay – but the Canadian Geographic Society argues that Canada’s 150th anniversary in the coming year offers a perfect opportunity.

The society announced its preferred candidate Wednesday evening at its annual dinner at the National War Museum in Ottawa.

David Bird, a professor emeritus from Montreal’s McGill University and one of the country’s foremost ornithologists, called the gray jay “the perfect bird for Canada.”

“They’re the smartest birds on the planet. That’s actually been shown scientifically,” Bird said in an interview.

The jays never migrate out of Canada, wintering in the boreal forest where they nest. They’ve been observed sitting on eggs in temperatures as low as minus 30 C.

“These birds will also come down to your hand, without being prodded or trained in any way, because they’re very friendly,” said the ornithologist, who now lives on Vancouver Island.

“So now you’ve got friendly, hardy and intelligent – that, to me, epitomizes the average Canadian.”

Gray jays are found in the boreal forest in every province and territory, coast to coast, and are only rarely observed anywhere south of Canada’s border.

In addition to their Cree name, wisakedjak, they were known as Canada jays for the better part of two centuries until 1957, when the American Ornithologists’ Union renamed the cousin of crows and ravens as gray jays.

 

The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Greater Victoria favourite Pendray Corn Maze opens today

Pendray Farms Corn Maze raises food and funds Sept. 29

Oak Bay firefighters help fund new Monterey playground

Sausage Fest cash handed over to Monterey PAC

Transport Canada announces funds for pollutant clean up in Victoria Park, removal of abandoned boats

Contaminants at Laurel Point Park will be removed starting at the end of September

Moon Lantern festival to light up Gordon Head

Saturday night festival celebrates harvest moon, fall season

First day of fall: what you can look forward to in Greater Victoria this season

Food, festivals, pumpkins and more are coming your way

Conservation officer frees B.C. deer from flotation gear mishap

BC Conservation Officer Service is reminding residents to keep backyards clear of entanglements

5 things to do this weekend in and around Greater Victoria

Sooke Apple Fest returns, Saanich lights up with lantern festival and anarchists unite for downtown book fair

VIDEO: B.C.-born firefighter remembered by MP in emotional speech

Family asks first responders to look after one another in wake of suicide, growing concerns of PTSD

Airline has ‘close call’ with drone while en route to B.C. airport

Jazz Aviation reported the drone sighting near Vancouver to the RCMP and Transport Canada

Tragic accident claims life of B.C. toddler

Fundraising effort has been created to help mom and family

‘I’m no quitter’ on climate change issues, McKenna says at G7 ministers meeting

David Suzuki says if McKenna believes what she’s saying, she too should quit

VIDEO: Inside an eerily empty mall in Canada

Only nine of 517 retail spaces are open for business as the grand opening postponed to next year

B.C. wildfires burned large areas affected by mountain pine beetles: Experts

The mountain pine beetle epidemic affected more than 180,000 square kilometres in B.C.

Tens of thousands without power following tornado in Ottawa region

Hydro Ottawa says more than 170,000 customers were without power early this morning

Most Read