Following a nationwide poll and a heated debate hosted by the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society selected the whisky jack as Canada’s national bird.
Also known as the gray jay or the Canada jay, the intelligent bird beat out icons like the common loon, the snowy owl, and the Canada goose.
According to Canadian Geographic, the whisky jack was chosen based on “traits that symbolize the Canadian spirit.” In addition to being smart, the bird is friendly and thrives in the winter. These birds nest in the harshest, darkest month of the year, and have even been recorded incubating eggs in temperatures as cold as minus 30 degrees Celsius.
The whisky jack’s territory is also a great representation of the country.
“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,” Canadian Geographic editor, Aaron Kylie, told CBC News.
But these seemingly Canadian traits weren’t enough to win over voters. It was actually the common loon that led the polls with nearly 14,000 of the total 50,000 votes. The snowy owl placed second in the polls, and the whisky jack placed third.
Steven Price, president of Bird Studies of Canada, argued that because the common loon earned the most votes, it should be dubbed the bird of the people. While Alex MacDonald, senior conservation manager at Nature Canada, said that no other bird better represents the “True North Strong and Free” than the snowy owl, because it’s so well adapted to Canada’s harsh winter weather. He also noted that it’s an excellent example of female empowerment.
“It’s 2016, folks. The snowy owl is a great example of Canadian girl power. The females are notably physically stronger but also socially dominant over the males.”
Despite strong arguments for each of these birds, and resounding popularity among the voters, the society vetoed the loon and snowy owl, because they are already provincial symbols in Ontario and Quebec.
But their decision to go with the third most popular bird did ruffle a few feathers, including some in our audience. Not surprisingly, a Twitter poll we posted following the announcement indicated that most cottagers are loyal to the loon.
— Cottage Life (@cottagelife) November 17, 2016
Even the CEO of Canadian Geographic, John Geiger, admitted the whisky jack wasn’t his first choice, but that he quickly became a convert.
“Whisky Jack IS Canada with wings,” he tweeted.
Referring to the bird as the whisky jack, rather than the gray jay or Canada jay, does help its case. As one Ottawa man aptly pointed out, it’s all about branding.
— Eric the Intern (@CHEZ106Eric) November 17, 2016
— Shannon McArton (@shannonmcarton) November 19, 2016
— Mr. H. Teacher (@Mr_H_Teacher) November 17, 2016
The society now plans to lobby the federal government to officially recognize the bird in time for the country’s 150th birthday this July.