Biologists fight for Canadian national bird

By Dana Kobilinsky

A team of wildlife biologists head by David Bird is fighting for the recently renamed Canada Jay to become the national bird of Canada. ©A. Delray

Last year, wildlife biologist Dan Strickland searched documents in the Smithsonian Institute basement to determine how the Canada jay (Perisoreus canadensis) became renamed the gray jay.

In an effort to reinstate popular common names for birds 60 years ago, he found, the American Ornithologists’ Union Checklist Committee had no valid reason for taking “gray jay,” then the name of an obscure west coast subspecies, and imposing it as a new overall species name for this iconic Canadian bird, rather than continuing with “Canada jay” the traditional name that was then at least 185 years old.

Recently, Strickland and colleagues successfully petitioned what is now known as the North American Classification Committee to restore the old name. That’s good news for a team of Canadian biologists fighting for the jay to become Canada’s national bird.

“Birds have become very important to society,” said David Bird, an emeritus professor of wildlife biology at McGill University in Montreal. “Today, millions of North Americans love feeding them and watching them. Birds feed us, they clothe us, they act as environmental barometers, and they also stimulate us in a cultural sense.”

Bird has come up with a list of 17 reasons why the Canada jay should become the national bird, and he’s hoping government officials will see it his way this year.

“2018 is the Year of the Bird,” he said, “and a potentially historic record number of ornithologists and bird lovers will be meeting in Vancouver this August.” That’s when the International Ornithological Congress and Vancouver International Bird Festival bring in scientists and bird lovers from around the world.

Representatives from the federal government have been invited to a special “Canada Night” event where Canada jay boosters hope to announce an intention to declare a national bird.

Regardless, Bird said his team won’t give up trying to make the Canada jay the national bird.

“Perhaps when there’s a slow day in government, someone might think ‘how can we put a smile on the faces of Canadians? How about a national bird?’”

Dana KobilinskyDana Kobilinsky is a science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at dkobilinsky@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about her article. You can follow her on Twitter at @DanaKobi.

Read more of Dana's articles here.


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