Magpie or blue jay? Calgary councillor says it's time to choose the city's official bird

Five species are being considered for the title of Calgary's official bird: the black-capped chickadee, northern flicker, red-breasted nuthatch, blue jay and black-billed magpie.

'We are a bird enthusiastic city,' says Coun. Kourtney Penner

The black-billed magpie helps keep Calgary clean, according to Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner. The magpie is one of five possible contenders for the city's official bird. (Kathryn Keith)

One city councillor thinks it's time for Calgary to choose an official bird — and local residents should get a vote.

Coun. Kourtney Penner plans to bring forward a notice of motion on Tuesday to hold a public vote on the city's official bird. Five birds are contending for the title: the black-capped chickadee, northern flicker, red-breasted nuthatch, blue jay and black-billed magpie.

Yes, even the magpie is a contender.

"While my children affectionately refer to them as bully birds, they're actually also very good at keeping our city clean, and they're very good at keeping our city pest free," said Penner, who represents Ward 11. 

A red-breasted nuthatch stops for a seed snack. (Daniel Arndt)
The northern flicker is another contender for Calgary's official city bird. (Randy Mitchell)

Penner said this push to have a vote on an official bird is a citizen-led initiative, particularly from a local volunteer group called Bird Friendly Calgary.

"[It's] really important for Calgary to recognize we do have a very biodiverse neighborhood," Penner said.

"We are a bird enthusiastic city."

In 2021, Calgary became one of the first cities in the country to be certified by Nature Canada as bird friendly, according to a news release from Penner's office. The city is home to more than 200 bird species.

If Penner's motion goes forward, Calgarians would get to vote online for the official bird between April 1 and May 1. The winner would be announced on May 14, World Migratory Bird Day.

A blue jay. This species feeds mainly on seeds and soft fruits. (Scott Martin)

Biodiversity and wildlife in the city

Penner said choosing an official bird for Calgary means "recognizing the importance of biodiversity in our cities."

"We're really trying to drive the conversation around the importance of integrating urban wildlife into the city and talking about having a healthy ecological habitat," she said.

A black-capped chickadee. (Sara Jordan-McLachlan)

According to Penner, Bird Friendly Calgary brought forward the five species for consideration after consulting with local Indigenous groups and nature organizations.

The volunteer group plans to provide educational information to inform Calgarians about each bird during the voting period.


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