Nature

Our National Bird

By Myrna Pearman


   The Royal Canadian Geographic Society (RCGS) - after a two-year, Canada-wide search, has chosen the gray jay as our national bird.

   In a contest that entailed lively debates and online voting, the gray jay was chosen over the black- capped chickadee, common loon, Canada goose and snowy owl. The federal government hasn’t commit- ted to naming a national bird, but the RCGS has made the case that Canada’s 150th anniversary is an appropriate occasion for our coun- try to finally choose one.

   Although the gray jay is a quintessentially Canadian bird species, some people have com- plained that it doesn’t really repre- sent Canada because it is found only across the northern boreal forests. And there was some con- sternation voiced over the fact that the RCGS chose the gray jay even though the loon had won the popu- lar vote.

   The core range of the gray jay does not extend as far east as Red Deer, but one doesn’t have to travel very far west or north to encounter them, and anyone who has visited the west country will be well famil- iar with this friendly rogue-of-the- woods.

   If you haven’t yet 

encountered a gray jay, 

I suggest a trip to 

west country 

campground or park

(e.g. Crimson Lake).


   All you need to do is break out some food (nuts and pastry are favourites); within short order and with exceeding stealth, one or more of these fearless beggars will mate- rialize to pilfer your offerings.

   Gray jays are amazingly well adapted to their harsh northern home. Check out my blog (myrna- pearman.com) for a more detailed description of these amazing birds, including some of their notable adaptations (which include using saliva to stick food to storage spots) and interesting behaviours (they often next in the dead of winter).

   In addition to being nicknamed camp robber, meat hawk, moose bird and whiskey jack (from the Cree name wisedadjak, meaning mischievous prankster), this species was called Canada jay until 1957, when the American Ornithologists’ Union lumped it with the Oregon jay and renamed it gray jay.

   There has been a growing call for yet another name change, this time to reverts its name back to Canada jay. I fully support this suggestion—an iconic Canadian name for an iconic Canadian bird!

Canada-wide search, has chosen the gray jay as our national bird.

   Ellis Bird Farm was pleased to be the first organization ever(!) to install a camera on a gray jay nest.

   This nest, located near Caroline, Alberta, was perfectly situated (only 2 m off the ground and close to both power and an internet connection) for streaming. The camera was installed on March 18.

   Elizabeth (the female, named after Queen Elizabeth) laid her first egg on March 25, then an additional egg for the next two days. This webcam generated great excitement, timed perfectly to celebrate Canada’s 150+ birthday and in support of what we hope will be Canada’s National Bird. An account of this nest can be found on the EBF website: (www.ellisbirdfarm.ca).

j© Henry Saley 2013