As It Happens

The grey jay is becoming the Canada jay — but it's still not our national bird

Bird expert David Bird says this bird should be our national bird.

Wildlife biologist David Bird hopes name change will reopen discussion about adopting the national symbol

The grey jay is getting renamed the Canada jay — which was its original name 60 years ago. (Bill Perks)
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Wildlife biologist David Bird is hoping the rebranding of the grey jay as the Canada jay will inspire the federal government to adopt the creature as Canada's national bird.

At the behest of Canadian avian enthusiasts like Bird and naturalist Dan Strickland, the American Ornithological Society has decided to officially restore the grey jay to its original name of Canada jay after 60 years.

"This is just a big boost for us and we're really hoping that the government will do something this year," Bird, a McGill University professor, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"But don't get me wrong, we won't give up if they don't."

The National Bird Project

The AOS plans to announce the name change in a July supplement of its publication the Auk, the Globe and Mail reports. A spokesperson for the organization was not immediately available for comment.

Bird is one of many Canada jay lovers who have long advocated for its adoption as a national symbol. 

He was singing the jay's praises in 2016, when the Royal Canadian Geographical Society hatched a plan to have a national bird declared by the federal government in time for Canada 150 celebrations.

The society's National Bird Project saw nearly 50,000 Canadians vote for their favourite feathered finalist. In November 2016, the grey jay, as it was then called, was crowned the winner.

Canadian Geographic named the grey jay Canada's bird — but it was never adopted by Parliament. (Canadian Geographic)

That's because it's smart, friendly and stays mostly north of the border even in freezing temperatures, Bird said.

"It figures highly in the First Nations culture, it's not an endangered species and it's found in every province and every territory," he said.

"I just don't think you could find a better bird for Canada than the Canada jay."

The Canada jay beat out the loon, the snowy owl and even the Canada goose in the nationwide vote, but it was never officially adopted by the federal government, which — as it later turned out — ​at no point sanctioned the project.

"We have a national mammal, national tree, national game .... and even a national horse, so why not a national bird?" Bird said.

"And this year is the best year to do this .... because it's the Year of the Bird."

'The great Canada jaywalk'

The Department of Canadian Heritage is responsible for Canada's national symbols, and a new one can only be adopted through an act of Parliament.

Asked for comment, a spokesperson from the heritage ministry said in an email the federal government "is not actively considering proposals to adopt a bird as a national symbol."

The Canada jay, also known as the whisky jack, is smart, friendly and tough. (Preston Utley/Vail Daily via Associated Press)

Bird, however, remains steadfast.

If the Canada jay doesn't become the national bird by the end of 2018, he said he will walk across the country to raise support for the cause.

He calls the idea "the great Canada jaywalk."

"I'm hoping I don't have to do that, because that's a significant amount of time and effort. And, who knows? I mean, I might break my legs doing that," he said.

"But the point is all of us on Team Canada Jay feel passionate about this issue."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview with David Bird produced by Kevin Robertson.

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