My friend and colleague Dr. David Bird, formerly of McGill University, has been driving a movement to have a national bird declared for Canada. Although many thought it was a done deal already and we had affirmed the Canada Jay as our national bird, Canada has not yet done so.
Starting in 2016, the community at large made a decision after complex lobbying and a voting exercise that spanned several months of planning and delivery. Even though a clear winner was determined through this process, for various reasons the federal government never followed up.
It’s time to reinvigorate our efforts and make this happen – and you can help.
We have many symbols that officially recognize our country. The most obvious and prevalent is the Canadian flag, with its bold red and white colours and stylized maple leaf. It was declared our national flag in 1965 – after a 40-year debate! Recognized everywhere in the world, it’s a great, attractive flag that showcases our country and our colours.
Our royal coat of arms recognizes the monarchy and the oversight and influence it has on our lives. It was adopted by proclamation by King George V in 1921. Coincident with that is our national motto: “A Mari Usque Ad Mare” (from sea to sea). But maybe it should be more appropriately stated as “A Mari Usque Ad Mare Usque Ad Mare” to reflect our three oceans.
Our national anthem O Canada is respected by all and sung with pride. The original version has been modified several times to reflect our changing nation. O Canada was proclaimed our national anthem on July 1, 1980, one century after it was first sung in the City of Québec on June 24, 1880.
Did you know we have two national sports? Lacrosse for the summer and hockey for the winter.
We have a national tree – the maple – which is not any specific species but a stylization of the 10 species of maple found across much of Canada.
We also have a national mammal – the beaver (declared in 1975) – and a national horse – the Canadian horse (2002).
Surprisingly, we even have a national tartan (2011) called the Maple Leaf Tartan.
But we don’t have a national bird.
A new book, The Canada Jay: The National Bird of Canada?, was released this year to celebrate the move to finalize the project and declare the Canada Jay our national bird.
Written by Bird and other noteworthy authors such as Dan Strickland (who likely knows more about Canada Jays than anyone else in the world), it’s an entertaining and fact-filled treatise that introduces the history of the search for a national bird and intertwines English, Indigenous and Francophone influences into the story. With a forward by Robert Bateman and dedication by John and Janet Foster, this is a must-read if you want to know why the Canada Jay should be our national bird.
The book is divided into 12 chapters, each written by one or more of the authors. Bird wrote three chapters as to why the Canada Jay deserves to be our national bird, why we even need a national bird and why it should not be the common loon.
I loved Strickland’s chapter on how the Canada Jay’s name evolved over the centuries from the cinereous crow to Canada Jay to gray jay, then recently back to Canada Jay.
Strickland also teams up with Norris to write about the intriguing behaviour of this boreal species. There’s also an enlightening treatment of the importance of the Canada Jay in Indigenous teachings, where it’s deemed a reconciliation agent and environmental emissary. A similar treatment is offered for the Francophone communities.
Why should the Canada Jay be our national bird, and why shouldn’t the snowy owl or common loon be the top bird?
Partly because the owl and the loon have already been recognized as the provincial birds of Quebec and Ontario, respectively. But there’s a more important reason: The underlying thread is that the Canada Jay lives and breeds almost entirely in Canada, is found coast to coast to coast, and is entrenched in our entire history from the time when only Indigenous peoples lived here, through the fur-trading and industrial eras and into modern times.
Is there something you can do to help?
You can remind the government that we are overdue to have a national bird that truly reflects the history, nature and value of Canada. Please go to www.canadajay.org or www.change.org and sign the petition to be part of history to forever permit us to celebrate the Canada Jay.
And don’t forget to get your copy of The Canada Jay book for $9.95 from Hancock House, online or at better book and nature stores.
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant.
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