Canada has an incredible diversity of birds, with over 450 different species calling it home. With so much bird life across the country, birds make up an important part of Canadian life and culture. Birds are deemed so important that every Province has a provincial bird, we also have our noisy neighbours to the south being so proud of their bald eagle (which could have easily been our bird, given their population in Canada), it seemed slightly odd that it has taken so long to officially choose a national bird. For over a year Canadian Geographic has been running a poll to finally decide which bird Canadians wanted to represent them, the shortlist was then whittled down to five, with the winner being announced tonight, the gray jay. It had some tough competition, it was up against the iconic loon, the fierce snowy owl, the well known Canada goose and the adorable black-capped chickadee.
Whilst the loon or the snowy owl may have been the more obvious choices, I am pleased that the gray jay was chosen in the end. This highly intelligent and hardy bird is found across every Province and Territory, given Canada’s scale there are not many species like that, they are also sparsely found in the USA, and are much more common north of the border, they are a true Canadian bird. They are renowned for not just being smart, but being good natured, fearless and determined, ask any mountain hiker what bird is most likely to steal your lunch, I bet they will say the gray jay, or as it is also known, whiskey jack.
They are not intimidated by our winters, sticking it out and getting on with it. They are even known to start nesting in the winter and have been seen incubating eggs in -30. They may not be the most flashy or colourful bird, but they are understated and a perfect fit in their habitat.
I won’t lie my vote was for the snowy owl, I deemed it to be a fitting species for Canada, but when looking at the arguments I saw the flaws, why choose a national bird that many Canadians may never see, yes they are a gorgeous species, perfectly adapted to the north, but do they have a clear connection with people right across Canada? Also they are the provincial bird of Quebec, and being a provincial and national bird seems greedy.
To some, choosing a national bird seemed pointless, but it is important for us to start talking more about our own wildlife, to have over 50,000 people vote, and widespread media coverage, it was refreshing to see a large number of people in Canada come together to talk and learn about our incredible birds. Well done to all involved, and what happens now? Well I say, national mammal, fish, insect, tree, flower? Let’s complete the set!