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The Gray Jay

The Gray Jay for Canada’s National Bird
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We'd like to thank David for this article...

There are movements afoot in Canada to select a National Bird as part of the Canada celebrations for its 150th year of existence in 2017. Currently we have the maple as our official tree and for better or worse, the beaver as our official mammal. So why not an official bird? Many countries have one, the U.S. with its bald eagle being a prime example. I strongly believe that we should choose the gray jay, formerly known as the Canada jay. Here are no less than SIXTEEN compelling reasons why it would be a great choice:

1) Found in all thirteen provinces and territories; it is only barely found in the U.S., in the Rocky Mt region and Alaska
2) A member of the corvid family, arguably the smartest birds on the planet;
3) Extremely friendly toward humans like all Canadians, often found panhandling on cross-country ski trails;
4) Very hardy like all Canadians, having highly adapted itself to living in very cold regions;
5) Figures strongly in First Nations folklore, also called the whiskey jack;
6) Is not an endangered species and thus, not at risk of disappearing;
7) Figures prominently in the boreal forest ecological zone, constituting a vast portion of our country worthy of protection and under pressure from clear-cutting and oil and gas development;
8) Not a hunted species, so it is not shot by Canadians;
9) Not an official bird species for any of the ten provinces and recognized territories nor any other country (common loon is Ontario’s bird; snowy owl is Quebec’s bird)
10) Formerly called the Canada jay by ornithologists; its French name is mésangeai du Canada and its Latin name is Perisoreus canadensis!)
11) Stays in Canada year-round
12) Not flamboyant in its appearance, best representing the conservative nature of Canadians!
13) Not regarded as an obnoxious or nuisance species (like the Canada goose which is culled in the U.S.!)
14) Cannot be confused with any other bird species (99.6% of Canadians cannot tell the difference between a raven and a crow!)
15) Not a circumpolar species, i.e. not found in other northern countries (as is the snowy owl and raven)
16) Does look like any other bird species and thus, cannot be misidentified

In short, I cannot think of a more Canadian bird!!! If Canada adopts this species as its national bird, we might even be able to convince the Nomenclature Committee of the American Ornithologists’ Union to rename it the Canada Jay.

The only thing going against it is that many Canadians do not see this bird every day (unless they enjoy skiing!), but lots of states and provinces as well as other countries have official birds that the public does not see on a regular basis and may in fact never see them as a live bird. The fact is that once it is chosen, we can promote the bird so that Canadians make an effort to visit our boreal forest to become very familiar with it and indeed, be proud of it as our National Bird.

Other Comments:

A few years ago, a raptor organization called The Canadian Raptor Conservancy in Ontario started promoting a national bird for Canada, but they have been doing it mostly by using an internet vote. I worry about their process because there are species on their list of candidates which would be a disastrous choice. For instance, the Canada goose is an obnoxious bird that is much hated in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere to the point of being culled. The common loon is Ontario's bird, not likely a popular idea with the other provinces, especially its arch-rival, Quebec. The same can be said for the snowy owl, which is Quebec’s official bird. Another leading candidate, the red-tailed hawk, is even more common in the U.S. than Canada, so it is not very distinctive. Fortunately, the gray jay is one of the candidates! More importantly, The Canadian Geographic Society has recently initiated a similar online survey, a much more serious effort, for the general public to weigh in on this matter. Forty candidates have been nominated, including the gray jay, but currently the front-runners are the common loon, the snowy owl, and gasp…. the Canada goose. Personally, I would like to see some intelligent discussion and debate about such an important matter as opposed to just letting the public make some inane choice. I recall running a popular vote to select an official bird for the city of Montreal and we ended up with the American goldfinch only because the children who ended up being allowed to vote thought that it was the prettiest bird. Recently, the city of Vancouver went with the black-capped chickadee as its official bird, another democratic decision that did not make any sense among Canadian ornithologists. I am seeking help from all quarters to facilitate the selection of the gray jay as Canada’s National Bird.

David M. Bird, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Ornithology at McGill University
February 9, 2015

Picture by Chuck King                  Picture by Melanie Pebemat

Picture by Gord Belyea            Picture by Rejean Turgeon

The Finnicky Gray Jay


Citizenship:  Canadian.  Born April 23, 1949, Toronto, Ontario


Spoken and Written:  English with some ability in French

Higher Education:   
B.Sc. (Honours Zoology), University of Guelph, 1973
M.Sc. (Wildlife Biology), McGill University, 1976
Ph.D. (Wildlife Biology), McGill University, 1978

Summary of Experience and Skills:

An Emeritus Professor of Wildlife Biology at McGill University and Director of the Avian Science and Conservation Centre.  Main research interests over 40 years focused on raptorial birds, e.g. falcons, hawks, eagles, owls, etc. Participated in recovery programs for endangered Peregrine Falcons and Loggerhead Shrikes.  Most recent research interest includes application of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) to wildlife studies.  Also have extensive consulting experience in human-bird interactions, e.g. control of nuisance wildlife, impact of ecotourism, wind farms, golf courses, urbanization, etc. on birds of prey and wildlife in general.

Administrative skills in community service include being Past-President of the Raptor Research Foundation Inc.; Past-President of the Society of Canadian Ornithologists, Past member of the board of directors of the American Birding Association; current ex-officio member of Unmanned Systems Canada. Elected as a Fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union in 1996 and as a Member of the International Ornithological Committee in 1998.  Have world-wide contacts in ornithology.  Organized two major conferences on birds and numerous symposia and workshops. Founded a new peer-reviewed scientific publication, the Journal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems, as part of the NRC Research Press series, for Unmanned Systems Canada.

Have much experience in area of public relations; produced a weekly nature report for CFCF-CTV, a major English television network in Quebec for 3 years; produced television reports for The Discovery Channel (Canada) in 1995; wrote a monthly column on birds in The Gazette, Quebec's only major English newspaper; write a column on bird behaviour for the bimonthly magazine, Bird-Watchers' Digest.  Logged many hours on radio phone-in shows on wildlife for CJAD and CBC; produced a weekly nature column on CJAD radio for 45 weeks in 1995.  Founded and organized the Montreal Bird Festival in May 2000. 

In terms of teaching at McGill University, lectured on ornithology, wildlife behaviour, science communication methods, wildlife conservation, and fisheries and wildlife management.  Taught ornithology in Kenya for 5 stints. Have taught a 5-day ornithology course for interested bird-lovers.  Hosted/led birding trips to several countries, including Belize, Costa Rica, Peru, India, Chile, Virgin Islands, Galapagos, and Kenya. 37 M.Sc. and 11 Ph.D. students supervised to completion; 2 M.Sc. students currently being supervised.

Several awards over the last 5 years include
the Award for Excellent in Alumni Education from McGill University,

                   the Tom Cade Award from the Raptor Research Foundation for Significant Contributions to Captive Breeding and Conservation of Birds of Prey, the Quebec Education Award awarded by Bird Protection Quebec, and the Roland Michener Conservation Award from the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

Over 200 publications in refereed scientific journals/conference proceedings; edited three conference proceedings, edited four books in last 5 years including Raptor Research and Management Techniques (2007) and best-selling Birds of Canada (2010), Birds of Eastern Canada (2013) and Birds of Western Canada (2013); author of City Critters: How to Live With Urban Wildlife (1986), Bird’s Eye View (1999), and The Bird Almanac (2004).

21,111 Lakeshore Road
Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec H9X 3V9


Note: On 17th November 2016 The Royal Geographical Society of Canada selected the Gray Jay as Canada's National Bird. See

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