Not so loony: Why the Gray Jay soared to victory as Canada’s would-be national bird

I saw several of these birds yesterday and their cute as little puff balls. I agree, I would prefer others to associate us with the Canada Jay than the Canada Loon for the reasons stated in the article! Click here to read the full story or an excerpt below.


The gray jay is as Canadian a bird as it comes, writes David M. Bird.

The gray jay is as Canadian a bird as it comes, writes David M. Bird. MARCEL GAHBAUER / –


As for the character and quality of the gray jay, you could not find a more Canadian bird. First, as a member of the corvid family (crows, ravens, magpies and jays), it is arguably the smartest bird on the planet. Their brain-to-body ratio is similar to that of dolphins and chimpanzees! Second, the gray jay is extremely tough and hardy. By not leaving the country in winter, it has adapted itself to not only surviving our harsh Canadian winters but also breeding as well.

This bird can incubate its eggs at -30 C! Third, gray jays are extremely friendly, readily coming down to perch on open hands and ski poles without any training whatsoever. Fourth, unlike most birds in the world, gray jays are not promiscuous and the mates do not cheat on one another. The pair remains together year-round, often flying together everywhere and even perching side by side touching one another. So we’ve got “smart”, “hardy”, “friendly” and “loyal.” What greater way to describe the typical Canadian, eh?

It gets better. For 200 years, the gray jay was known as the Canada jay, but in 1957, for reasons far too complicated to get into here, the American Ornithologists Union Checklist Committee decided to rename it the gray jay and added insult to injury by adopting the American spelling.

But perhaps many Canadians best know this bird by its First Nations name, the whiskey jack — nothing to do with the beverage, by the way, but everything to do with an anglicization of a Cree-Ojibway word meaning “mischievous prankster.”

Yes, the bird does have the cheeky, cute and opportunistic habit of pilfering food, but indigenous folks revere the whiskey jack because it is an omen of good fortune and a warning of danger in the forest. In the end, we Canadians can call our bird whatever we like, even the Canada jay. After all, the Americans do refer to their bald eagle as the American eagle, right?

The gray jay is also a safe choice. It is not hunted and not killed as a nuisance species. It is also not endangered and not likely to disappear anytime soon.

I have saved the best for last. The gray jay is a denizen of our boreal forest, which extends from coast to coast, a habitat, incidentally, that is under siege from mineral and forest development. In short, to meet our hopeful national bird, Canadians are simply going to have to go to our ski mountains and into many of our national and provincial parks to hike, camp, and/or ski. And I guarantee you that this little bird will come down to greet you just as it did for millennia welcoming around their campfires the people who defined our nation — the explorers, settlers, prospectors, trappers and aboriginal peoples. And since the gray jay is highly dependent on cold winter temperatures to keep the stored food in its caches from rotting, you could not find a better poster child for climate change!



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