Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

If Canada is going to have a national bird, it might as well be the gray jay

As if having to come to terms with the election of Donald Trump wasn't enough, Canadians now have to deal with yet more searing controversy.

The Royal Canadian Geographic Society, through its magazine Canadian Geographic, this week announced with some hubris that the gray jay is now the national bird of Canada. "Canada, meet your national bird," the society said, in case you don't believe us.

The magazine chose the gray jay over the Canada goose, the loon, the black-capped chickadee and the snowy owl. It will fall to Parliament to make it official, and there are those who insist the self-appointed RCGS made the wrong pick. Will the diversity-embracing Trudeau government even be able to show preference for a passerine at the expense of a goose or a raptor?

Story continues below advertisement

We think the gray jay is a solid pick as a national emblem, if that's what you're into. We were put off at first, when we read that they are known for "their extreme tameness and their habit of seeking out humans to look for handouts." Those may be apt characteristics, but why make a point of it?

What we do appreciate is how smart gray jays are. These crow cousins have the same body-to-brain ratio as humans, the possession of which is evidence of nothing these days. But they actually put theirs to good use.

For one thing, they see migration as the ridiculous death-trap that it is. They spend their entire year in Canada and survive in winter by eating food they hide away during the fall. Their ability to memorize the locations of their stashes is a survival skill similar to being able to drive to a corner store in a blinding blizzard while wearing your pyjamas.

The gray jay has other appropriate qualities, not the least of which is the reverence that native Canadians have long shown it. Its alternative (and cooler) moniker, whiskey jack, comes from the Cree word Wisakedjak, the name of a mischievous but benevolent shape-shifter who frequently appears as a gray jay.

This friendly little creature would definitely make a suitable national bird – even if "gray" is an American spelling foisted on Canada by an unaccountable cabal of international ornithological conspirators.

Sorry. That sounded like something Donald Trump would say. "Gray jay" is fine.

Report an error Licensing Options
Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨