Meet the elusive grey jay, top choice for Canada's national bird

To some, the choice to dub the grey jay Canada’s national bird is as surprising as the U.S. presidential election results.

If you live in Toronto and have never heard of the grey jay, you're not alone

ROM ornithologist Mark Peck said the grey jay is a good choice for Canada's national bird because it's tough, friendly and gregarious, like many Canadians. (Laura DaSilva/CBC )

To some, the choice to dub the grey jay Canada's national bird is as surprising as the U.S. presidential election results.

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society announced Wednesday the grey jay trumped more high-profile contenders, including the common loon, snowy owl and Canada goose after a country-wide vote and formal debate.The naming marked the culmination of its much-squawked-about National Bird Project.

The nod for the grey jay, also known as the whiskey jack, is ruffling the feathers of many Torontonians who are asking, "The grey what?"

CBC Toronto flapped over to the Royal Ontario Museum to ask ornithologist Mark Peck why the winged winner is an enigma in the city and why the decision isn't strictly for the birds.

"It's an exciting day to be a grey jay," he said. "We're all very excited about it."

He said the tough and gregarious cousin of the crow and raven is found in every province and territory and lives in Canada year-round, unlike Canadian geese and other species that migrate south in the winter.

The grey jay was chosen as the top nominee for Canada's top bird because it can be found across the entire country and embodies the Canadian spirit, the Canadian Geographical Society says (Frank and Sandra Horvath/Canadian Geographic )

He explained how the grey jay fits into the Canadian psyche.

"They're friendly. They're fun. They're interesting," he said. "They're scavengers. They know how to make things work in Canada."

They thrive in winter, nesting in the harshest, darkest months of the year and have been recorded incubating eggs in snowstorms at temperatures as cold as -30 C.

"We should learn from the grey jay," he said. "Grey jays are survivors and they've done it beautifully in Canada for thousands of years."

You won't find a grey jay in Toronto 

But if you live in Toronto, don't go running for your binoculars just yet. Peck explained grey jays live in the boreal forests and subalpine regions and don't adapt well in places as far south as Toronto.

If you're looking to take a selfie with a grey jay, you'll have to head north.

"Easiest way to see a grey jay is to take a camping trip up to Algonquin Park for the weekend," he said. "Bring a little bit of bread or some peanuts with you, put your hand out, and there will probably be a grey jay in your hand in about five minutes."

It's a 'win-win' regardless of which bird won 

The loon actually led Canadian Geographic's national poll of 50,000 respondents with nearly 14,000 votes. The snowy owl came in second and the grey jay third.

A spokesperson said staff vetoed the loon and snowy owl because they are already provincial symbols in Ontario and Quebec respectively.

"I think this was fixed," Peck quipped. "I think there was a committee made up of grey jay lovers."

Mark Peck said the ROM has gray jay specimens that date back to the late 1800s. (Laura DaSilva/CBC )

He said regardless of which bird won, the contest has piqued people's interest in ornithology and is helping inspire a new flock of bird watchers.

"All of these species show beauty of the outdoors and encourage people to get outside and look at our wildlife," he said. "It's a win-win for everybody. The grey jay just came out on top."

The federal government has not committed to appointing the grey jay Canada's national bird — or any bird for that matter — but the Canadian Geographical Society said the country's upcoming 150th anniversary would be a great time to make the idea fly.