The cute and feisty gray jay is the somewhat surprising pick to be Canada’s new national bird.
Canadian Geographic magazine and the Royal Canadian Geographic Society recently recommended that the federal government name the gray jay to the prestigious post after a a two-year-long National Bird Project.
The little bird’s range is nearly exclusive to Canada, and it is found in all 10 provinces and the three territories. The gray jay, in many ways, embodies everything it means to be Canadian.
“They are a tough bird,” Canadian Geographic said in making the announcement. “The gray jay thrives in winter, nesting in the harshest, darkest month of the year and has been recorded incubating eggs in snowstorms at temps as cold as -30C. The gray jay is extremely friendly and an intelligent bird.”
There have also been stories of the bird befriending indigenous peoples, tweeting to warn hunters of nearby predators and singing to help a lost hunter get home.
“I cannot think of a more Canadian bird!” the appropriately named, David Bird, an emeritus professor of ornithology at McGill University, wrote in his submission.
Abut 50,000 people cast ballots. The top five: Snowy owl (which is already the provincial bird in Quebec), black-capped chickadee (New Brunswick’s provincial bird), common loon (the official bird in Ontario), Canada goose and gray jay. Experts were also consulted.
“The project ignited a groundswell of public support because those taking part recognized they were joining a movement to identify a new national symbol of pride, identity and belonging on the cusp of the country’s 150th birthday,” federal environment minister Catherine McKenna said in a statement.
But the announcement did cause controversy – some had assumed the Canada goose was already the national bird – and confusion – some had never heard of the wee thing. Then there’s the issue of spelling.
Gray is normally spelled “grey” in Canada, and the bird’s other common handle – whiskey jack – doesn’t adhere to Canadian spelling of “whisky.”
“If Canada adopts this species as its national bird, we might even be able to convince the Nomenclature Committee of the American Ornithologists’ Union to rename it the Canada jay,” Prof. Bird added.
Now, a bird-loving entrepreneur is doing his part to get Canadians to flock behind Team Gray Jay.
“Gray jays aren’t the first bird that comes to mind, and for some people bigger is always better,” said Anders Svensson of Jetpack Creative Industries in Calgary, Alberta. “Also, I get the impression that many people haven’t encountered a Canada goose in person. They are terrible things.”
So, Svensson is launching a line of merchandise for gray jay fans, which he hopes will fly off the shelves.
“Headlines in North America have been politically charged in the back half of 2016, and you can see the effect on people soaking in the negativity,” he explained. “The controversy around the appointment of this small bird has been a nice reprieve. So, in the spirit of balancing the scales with lighter fare, I thought I’d put my propaganda machine behind the polarizing but harmless gray jay issue.”
And, he whipped up a pretty nifty video to generate some support.
“Some people are outraged,” says the British-accented voice over in the Vimeo posting. “Those people are insane. I mean, just look at this little guy. He’s freakin’ adorable.”
Sure, Svensson agrees there’s really nothing more “on-brand” for Canada than the tough little bird, but it’s not actually his favourite feathered friend.
“My all-time favourite birds that I’ve met in the wild are Adélie penguins. They can’t fly, but I’ve seen them toboggan down hills, steering with their wings,” he said.
Sure, but can they do this?
Sit at the tippy-top of an evergreen in the Rocky Mountains of Jasper National Park? Nope. And, neither can a Canada goose.