Canadians flock to vote on national bird

If you can't name Canada's national bird, there's a good reason — the country doesn't have one. So Canadian Geographic magazine launched a national bird contest aimed at picking a bird who could represent the True North.

National Bird Project aims to name Canada's finest feathered friend in time for 150th birthday

As of Aug. 31, the common loon was in the lead in the National Bird Project's online voting to name Canada's national bird. (Diane Stinson)

Our neighbours to the south have the bald eagle, Australia has the emu, and New Zealanders are often referred to as "kiwis."

But if you can't name Canada's national bird, there's a good reason — the country doesn't have one.

That's why, last year, Canadian Geographic magazine launched a national contest aimed at picking a bird which could represent the True North.

Canadians from across the country have voted online for their favourites, in a contest closing at midnight ET on Aug. 31, 2016.

"Canadians have a phenomenally great appreciation for our natural spaces [and] our wildlife, and I think birds are a wildlife species that all Canadians connect with and see as representative of those wild spaces," according to Canadian Geographic editor Aaron Kylie.

"And so I think a national bird, no matter what species it might end up being, is really symbolic of that appreciation for our wild species and our environment."

The Royal Canadian Geographic Society — which publishes Canadian Geographic — launched the effort to name a national bird in January of 2015. The society had planned to announce the national bird at the end of that year, and was working with the federal government to officially adopt the winning bird.

The Canada goose is among the leading contenders for the country's national bird, according to online votes on the National Bird Project's website. (Alan D. Wilson/Wikimedia Commons)
Last year's federal election threw a wrench into those plans, since naming a national bird was not seen as a priority. So Canadian Geographic will announce the winning bird in December of 2016, and hopes the government will officially recognize it in time for Canada's sesquicentennial in 2017.

Canada already has an official national tree (the maple), and two official national animals (the beaver and the Canadian horse), but has never had a national bird.

Online voting will be used in part to determine Canadian Geographic's winning bird, but Kylie said the society is also consulting with bird experts for the final pick.

Loon leads in online voting

But with more than 450 species of birds found in Canada, he said they had to narrow down the list of eligible birds.

"It had to be a bird that had a fairly substantial national range, or was fairly iconic in a regional sense," Kylie said. 

They narrowed the voting list down to the top 40, but also gave voters the opportunity to "write in" birds they thought should be included.

The robin, for example, was initially excluded because its official name is the American robin.

Heading into the last day of online voting, the gray jay was in third place, behind only the loon and the snowy owl. (Bill Perks)
Heading into the final day of online voting, Kylie said the common loon has the lead, with more than 12,000 of over 42,000 votes cast.

The snowy owl had the second-most votes. Perhaps surprisingly — given that "Canada" is in the bird's name — the Canada goose was in fourth place.

In third was the gray jay, also known as the whiskey jack. 

"The gray jay is, I think, the decided favourite of the country's ornithologists," Kylie said.

"Its range is almost identical to a map of Canada, found in every province and territory. It's a very social bird... and of course, very hardy as you can imagine if it lives in the country the entire year," he said.


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