Step aside, loon: Geographic society plucks gray jay as Canada's national bird
Jeff Lagerquist and Jackie Dunham, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, November 16, 2016 11:24AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 16, 2016 10:00PM EST
The Royal Canadian Geographical Society has hatched its decision for the bird best suited to represent Canada after a two-year search and 50,000 votes from across the country.
The gray jay, also known as the whiskey jack, was awarded the society’s official recommendation for Canada’s national bird on Wednesday.
The gray jay, which is widely considered one of the most intrepid birds native to North America, can be found in every province and territory.
The species is known for being feisty, friendly, and curious. Gray jays are also known for their ability to take advantage of whatever food sources they can find.
Ornithology enthusiasts have spotted them landing on the back of live moose to eat blood-filled winter ticks.
The robin-sized whiskey jack’s boozy-sounding common name has nothing to do with the drink, but rather Cree and Algonquin languages - Wìsakedjàk in Algonquin or Wīhsakecāhkw in Cree. It’s celebrated as a friendly and clever herald of good fortune.
The gray jay was an underdog pick, according to Canadian Geographic’s national bird poll. The common loon won the popular vote with 13,995 picks, followed by the snowy owl with 8,948. The gray jay ranked third with 7,918 votes. Rounding up the top five picks were the Canada goose and the black-capped chickadee.
The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s decision was based on those votes, as well as expert opinions and other feedback.
Aaron Kylie, an editor with Canadian Geographic magazine, hinted to CTV News Channel on Wednesday morning that the common loon may not yodel its way to victory in spite of its popularity.
“From our perspective, we felt that that was a compelling argument about not stealing a provincial symbol,” Kylie said. “The common loon is the provincial bird of Ontario.”
Kylie discussed some of the other factors the magazine took into consideration, such as the bird’s behaviour, where the species is found in Canada, and whether or not it migrates in the winter.
He said the society received thousands of comments from Canadians advocating for particular species and what constitutes a national bird.
According to Kylie, some commenters suggested birds that seem to exemplify stereotypical Canadian attributes such as politeness or withstanding the cold. Other Canadians insisted that provincial birds or migratory species should also be excluded from the running.
“We really wanted to let Canadians tell us what they thought the criteria would be,” Kylie explained.
The federal government has not commented on naming a national bird.