Nova Scotia

Canada isn't getting a national bird after all

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society wanted the grey jay recognized as a national bird for Canada 150, but that isn't happening.

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society wanted the grey jay recognized, but that isn't happening

The grey jay was chosen as the top nominee for Canada's national bird because it can be found across the entire country and embodies the Canadian spirit, the Canadian Geographical Society says. (Steve Phillips)

After ruffling a few feathers, the grey jay will not be crowned Canada's national bird after all.

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society had hatched a plan to have a national bird declared by the federal government in time for Canada 150 celebrations. But it's not to be. 

For 18 months, the society ran its National Bird Project, which included an online contest, as well public debates and consultations with ornithologists and other experts.

Nearly 50,000 Canadians responded and in mid-November, the society announced the grey jay or whisky jack as the winner. It beat out the common loon, the snowy owl and the black-capped chickadee.

'Not actively considering proposals'

At no point did the federal government sanction the project.

Instead, organizers had simply hoped the work they put into choosing the bird and the following publicity would be enough to convince Ottawa to follow through.

Canadian Geographic chose the grey jay as Canada's bird. But project was never sanctioned by the federal government. (Canadian Geographic)

Aaron Kylie, editor-in-chief of Canadian Geographic, which is published by the society, said he and his staff never officially lobbied the government to name a national bird. 

"We published a magazine article and I don't even know if the heritage minister read it … I don't know if the prime minister read it, I have no idea," he said.

He said the geographic society never pressed the government directly because it's a not-for-profit organization and lobbying Ottawa could jeopardize its status.

Kylie was sure the government was at least aware of the campaign because Environment Minister Catherine McKenna provided the opening remarks for the Great National Bird Debate in Ottawa in September 2016. 

He said other groups and individuals did contact the heritage minister and the reply was always the same: "There's been a pat response saying 'at this time we are not considering any new national symbols,'" he said. 

In an email to CBC, a heritage department spokesperson confirmed that position. 

"At this time, the government of Canada is not actively considering proposals to adopt a bird as a national symbol," the statement said. 

Still worthwhile 

Kylie said he still holds out hope that at some point in the future the government will take on the task of naming a national bird.

In the meantime, he said the work put into the magazine's National Bird Project was not in vain. 

"We had lots of Canadians that probably know way more about birds and hopefully quite specifically the grey jay … than we did one or two years ago."

CBC uses the Canadian Oxford Dictionary's spelling of "grey" in its name for the bird, rather than the "gray" more common in American English.

The grey jay, also called whisky jack, is not to become the national bird as Ottawa is not currently considering proposals for national symbols. (Dan Strickland)


Blair Sanderson is an award-winning nationally syndicated current affairs reporter for CBC Radio. He's based in Halifax, where he's worked for 10 years. Contact