Gray jay? Canadians ruffled over national bird they've never heard of
Josh Elliott, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, November 17, 2016 8:34AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, November 17, 2016 10:37AM EST
Canadian Geographic has recommended the gray jay as Canada's new national bird, prompting many across the country to ask: "Why didn't they pick a Canadian bird I've heard of?"
The Canadian nature magazine essentially threw out the results of its own poll to select the gray jay on Wednesday night, despite more popular support for the loon and the snowy owl. The loon led Canadian Geographic's national poll of 50,000 respondents with 13,995 votes, followed by the snowy owl (8,948) and the gray jay (7,918). But the magazine staff opted to skip those first two options because they were provincial symbols.
"We didn't want to have a national symbol selected by popularity contest alone," Aaron Kylie, Canadian Geographic's national editor, told CTV's Your Morning on Thursday. He said the magazine did not want to choose a bird that was already a provincial symbol, which ruled out the loon, the snowy owl and the fifth-place choice, New Brunswick's black-capped chickadee.
Kylie appeared on the show alongside David Bird, head of McGill University's Avian Science and Conservation Centre, and an avid proponent of the gray jay.
"If you had to pick 3 characteristics of Canadians, they would be I think hardy, friendly and smart, and the gray jay epitomizes all of those things," Bird said of the bird.
He also came ready to defend the magazine's choice to skip the loon and the snowy owl, which are the provincial birds for Ontario and Quebec. "When we selected a national flag for Canada, we did not pick the Ontario flag and we did not pick the Quebec flag," Bird said, holding up tiny versions of both flags to illustrate his point. "We picked a fresh and new choice," he continued, with a small Canadian flag in hand. "I think we want to do the same thing for a national bird."
Kylie and Bird did not explain why they included three provincial birds in the poll when they had no intention of using any of them.
And nevermind that both the bird's names – the gray jay and the whiskey jack – don't make use of Canadian spelling (i.e. grey and whisky). Perhaps the only saving grace in the whiskey jack name is that it's not named for the drink, but derived from the Cree and Algonquin languages. The bird is called Wìsakedjàk in Algonquin or Wīhsakecāhkw in Cree.
Bird enthusiasts crowed with happiness online after the gray jay selection was revealed, but others were not so enthused. Some questioned whether or not they've even seen it. Others said they didn't know there was such a bird.
Wtf is a gray jay?— Gregorius Maximus (@gdnicholson) November 17, 2016
Western Canada = yah Whiskey Jack Eastern Canada = Wtf is a gray Jay.— Shannon N. (@5gatos) November 17, 2016
I don't even know what a Gray Jay looks like...what is happening...we have Loons, chickadees, herons sobbing right now... #CanadaBird— Andrew King (@twitandrewking) November 17, 2016
Can't believe that an elite cabal of bird enthusiasts have ripped the noble Loon from it's rightful status. #NotMyNationalBird— kerrie, calm down (@kerriepants) November 17, 2016
But while many were annoyed with the choice, U.S. reporter Jay Gray of NBC News was among those celebrating, for obvious reasons. "YESS!!!!!!" he tweeted. "Canada you are the wind beneath my wings!"
The gray jay can be found in every Canadian province and territory, along with scattered areas in the U.S. northwest and Alaska. Its range extends across most parts of each province, although it does not cover the southern parts of Ontario, Alberta or Saskatchewan.
Many Canadians are unfamiliar with the bird because the country's population is concentrated near the southern border, whereas the gray jay prefers to stick to the colder climes in the north. And unlike many other birds, the gray jay doesn't migrate to the U.S. during the winter, so it never passes through those southern areas during migration season.
The federal government has not agreed to officially recognize the results of the Canadian Geographic poll.