Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

Ornithologists renew call for a national bird — and they have a suggestion

Will the latest push to make the Canada jay our national bird take flight?

Canadian ornithologists have banded together to petition the federal government to select the Canada jay as the national bird of Canada, but the question remains: Will it take flight?

David Bird is the main driving force behind Team Canada Jay, a campaign to persuade the federal government to nominate a national bird — and if they do, to seriously consider the Canada jay.

“We already have other national symbols — the beaver, the maple tree — but no official bird,” said Bird, a retired university professor living in North Saanich. The beaver became Canada’s official emblem in 1975.

He has gone out on a wing, publishing an 80-page book The National Jay as Canada’s National Bird, with a foreword by Robert Bateman. This week he sent a copy to every one of Canada’s 338 federal members of Parliament, including Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez and Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault.

Bird argues that 106 countries around the world have official birds. Different provinces and territories have also adopted territorial birds — the raven in the Northwest Territories, the loon in Ontario, and the Steller’s jay in B.C.

“I am all for a national bird. Why not?” said Ann Nightingale, a committed naturalist and birder. “I think it’s kinda cool. With the overall decline in bird numbers, I feel that anything that draws attention in a positive way will aid conservation overall.”

With 450 species of birds in the country, there has been a lot of debate among bird lovers as to which one deserves the honour.

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society got involved in 2015, polling the public, experts in the field, ornithologists, conservationists, cultural experts and Indigenous Peoples for their suggestions. The loon and snowy owl got more votes, but the Canada jay — which is not already the official bird of a province or territory — ultimately got the nod, though it’s never been made official.

“The Canada jay really reflects Canada,” Bird said. “It is friendly, intelligent, tough — there have been records of the birds nesting in February and incubating eggs in temperatures as low as -30 C — and it’s a songbird that stays with its mate.”

The bird’s name is Perisoreus canadensis in Latin and mésangeai du Canada in French. Its common moniker, “whisky jack,” is an Anglicization of the Cree “Wisakedjak,” a mischievous, transforming spirit.

The Canada jay, also known as the grey jay, is found in every province and territory, usually in boreal and mountain forests, which accounts for two-thirds of the country. On Vancouver Island, you may encounter it at higher elevations.

“It’s a really friendly bird,” Nightingale said. “To meet one all you have to do is bring along some peanuts and hold out your arm.”

For more information about the campaign to make the Canada jay the country’s national bird, go to canadajay.org.

parrais@timescolonist.com