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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(File)
British Columbians want more parks, even if it means less mining and logging: survey

Scientists say 30 per cent of land and water in Canada should be protected

File photo
EDITORIAL: The power of a single vote

In the Oct. 24 British Columbia election, every vote is important

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Kelowna RCMP investigating unexplained death of cattle

Cattle found dead near gravel road, east of the Kelowna Airport

The Alchemy Studio is hosting a dance church event on Halloween. (File Photo)
The Alchemy Studio hosting Halloween Dance Church

Spaces are limited and an RSVP is required

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

(Kelowna Capital News)
B.C. Labour Board orders Peachland cannabis company to reinstate laid-off employees

The B.C. Labour Relations Board determined the employees were laid off due to their plan to unionize

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Curtis Sagmoen
Public warning issued to North Okanagan sex trade workers

RCMP warns workers to stay away from Salmon River Road area

Two pigs roam the Salmon Arm Walmart parking lot during a prior visit photographed by Danielle Burgi. (Danielle Burgi photo)
Pigs trot over for a visit at Salmon Arm shopping centre

Employees say this was the second drop-in from the temporarily free-range porkers

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Penticton law courts. (Black Press file)
Osoyoos man in court for alleged shooting

The Oct. 11 shooting left a man with non-life threatening injuries

Most Read