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

Boundary non-profits now eligible for emergency funds

Local charities can apply to get grants from the $40,000 pot, managed by the Phoenix Foundation

Drive-in theatre proposed for Grand Forks

City councillors will vote next month on whether to permit the use of the private property

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Snow expected to hit West Kootenay passes overnight on Thursday

Up to 15 cm of snow could fall on Highway 3 between Paulson summit to Kootenay Pass by Friday morning

Six homes ordered to evacuate early Tuesday morning in Grand Forks due to flooding

Two of the six were put on evacuation alert Monday evening

B.C. records no new COVID-19 deaths for the first time in weeks

Good news comes despite 11 new test-positive cases in B.C. in the past 24 hours

BC Corrections to expand list of eligible offenders for early release during pandemic

Non-violent offenders are being considered for early release through risk assessment process

Fraser Valley driver featured on ‘Highway Thru Hell’ TV show dies

Monkhouse died Sunday night of a heartattack, Jamie Davis towing confirmed

B.C. visitor centres get help with COVID-19 prevention measures

Destination B.C. gearing up for local, in-province tourism

36 soldiers test positive for COVID-19 after working in Ontario, Quebec care homes

Nearly 1,700 military members are working in long-term care homes overwhelmed by COVID-19

B.C. poison control sees spike in adults, children accidentally ingesting hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer sales and usage have gone up sharply amid COVID-19 pandemic

B.C. man with Alberta plates gets car keyed and aggressive note

Some out-of-province people are finding hostile reception due to COVID-19 worries

B.C. drive-in theatre appeals COVID-19 concession rules, 50-car limit

With 50 cars and the removal of concession sales, drive-in owner says theatre might have to close

Most Read