In the last several years, I have seen hundreds of bald eagles join flocks of gulls to wade through mounds of human garbage in search of food in the Vancouver landfill site; they are also well known for stealing fish from hard-working ospreys. Neither behaviour speaks well for the National Bird of the United States of America! So how would Canadians like to have as their national bird a literal poop-making machine that is so abundant and obnoxious that it is actually culled in some U.S. states? I speak of the Canada goose, of course.
To quote that old axiom, be careful what you wish for.
The Canadian Geographic Society has recently initiated an online survey to engage Canadians in a dialogue to select a National Bird as part of Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations in 2017. I strongly believe that we should choose the Canada Jay. Here are no less than TEN compelling reasons why it would be a great choice:
1) Found in all 13 provinces and territories and barely found in the U.S., i.e. the Rocky Mountains and Alaska, and not anywhere else in the world.
2) Not an official bird species for any of our 10 provinces and recognized territories, nor for any other country.
3) A member of the corvid (crow/raven) family, arguably the smartest birds on the planet.
4) Extremely friendly toward humans, like all Canadians; one of very few birds to feed willingly out of the hand.
5) Very hardy like all Canadians, adapted to living in very cold, snowy regions and staying in Canada year-round.
6) Figures strongly in Canadian history, i.e. amusing lonely lumberjacks, and in First Nations folklore; also called the Whiskey Jack.
7) Not an endangered species, and thus not at serious risk of disappearing.
8) Figures prominently in the boreal forest ecological zone, constituting a vast portion of our country worthy of our protection.
9) Neither a hunted nor an obnoxious nuisance species, thus not shot by Canadians nor anyone else.
10) Formerly called the Canada Jay by ornithologists for 200 years. French name is “mésangeai du Canada” and its Latin name is Perisoreus canadensis!
In short, I cannot think of a more Canadian bird in terms of geographical distribution, character, status, and our country’s history! And 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, a name it bore for 200 years!
Of the 40 candidates nominated, the current front-runners are the Common Loon, Ontario's official bird and the Snowy Owl, Quebec’s official bird, with the Canada Jay in solid third place. Why not avoid acrimonious, divisive debate and just leave the loon and owl in their already established places of honour, and choose something new and fresh for all Canadians?
Most important, once the Canada Jay is chosen as our National Bird, we can promote the bird so that Canadians make an effort to visit our boreal forest to become very familiar with it and indeed, be proud of it as our National Bird.
If just 3,000 readers of this column vote for the gray jay at: www.canadiangeographic.ca/nationalbird/voting.asp
it will propel it into first place!
(photo credit: Rejean Turgeon)