Most countries select official symbolic birds to be a part of their national culture, and many countries go even further and each individual state or province selects a bird for its own symbol. While Canada has no official national bird, each province and territory does have a designated bird that is often used for ceremonies, emblems, and other official symbolism. Unlike the state birds of the United States, which are frequently repeated in multiple states, each of the Canadian provincial birds is unique to a single region.
No National Canadian Bird
It is unusual that Canada has no national bird, and there was a movement to officially adopt a Canadian national bird in 2017, the country's sesquicentennial (150th anniversary). In 2015, Canadian Geographic, in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Geographic Society (RCGS), began the National Bird Project to select an official avian symbol for all of Canada. Roughly 450 bird species can be seen in Canada and voting was open for all of Canada's birds, but only those species with widespread recognition and appeal were seriously considered for the nomination to be finalists. After the first round of public voting and commentary, the five finalists for the nation's feathered ambassador were announced in September 2016. Nearly 50,000 total votes were cast, and by popular vote, the finalists were:
- Common Loon (Gavia immer) - 13,995 votes
- Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) - 8,948 votes
- Gray Jay (Perisoreus canadensis) - 7,918 votes
- Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - 3,616 votes
- Black-Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) - 3,324
Other birds that were well represented in the voting but failed to make the top five finalists included the common raven (1,680 votes), blue jay (1,037 votes), great blue heron (617 votes), Atlantic puffin (764 votes), red-tailed hawk (538 votes), and Arctic tern (431 votes).
Of all the birds voted on, the common murre (Uria aalge) received the lowest number of votes, with just 21 ballots cast in its favor for the honor of becoming Canada's national bird.
After the public voting closed, an expert panel of ornithologists, conservationists, and other experts convened to discuss the merits of each finalist. The debate included how well each finalist represented the spirit, ingenuity, and hardiness of Canada and its citizens, as well as historical connections to native peoples.
Other considerations included how widespread the species is throughout the country and how exclusive its range is to Canada, which can be a major factor in avitourism as well as national identity and pride. Another minor consideration was to keep the national bird unique and not select any bird that was already represented as a provincial bird, which would have eliminated three of the top five finalists.
Though the common loon and snowy owl both had more votes in the popular selection, ultimately the panel recommended the gray jay, also called the whiskey jack or Canada Jay, be selected as Canada's official bird.
The recommendation of the gray jay was announced in November 2016, but that selection has yet to be ratified by any governmental body, and as yet, Canada still does not have an official national bird. An Act of Parliament would be necessary to officially recognize the gray jay as Canada's national bird, and around the time of the recommendation in 2016, the country's government stated that it's not actively considering any proposals to adopt a bird as a new national symbol. Still, the effort to name a Canadian national bird continues: As recently as February 2021, supporters were encouraging the government to make the Canada Jay or gray jay the country's national bird.
The Official Canada Jay
While the gray jay may not be officially recognized as Canada's national bird, it has had its name changed to reflect its regional significance. Up until the late 1950s, the bird had been known as the Canada jay, but in 1957 it was renamed the gray jay by the American Ornithologists' Union. In 2018, however, the name Canada jay was restored. The bird's scientific name, Perisoreus canadensis, remains unchanged.
Such changes to birds' common names can happen frequently, and different ornithological organizations often recognize different common names for the same bird species.
List of Official Canadian Provincial Birds
Though Canada may not yet have a national bird symbol for the entire country, each province does have an official, confirmed feathered ambassador. These state birds are often celebrated in local festivals or used as symbols on provincial flags, seals, logos, or other official symbols. They are also popular mascots for schools, teams, and businesses within each province and they are widely recognized and admired.
- Alberta: Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
- British Columbia: Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)
- Manitoba: Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)
- New Brunswick: Black-Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)
- Newfoundland and Labrador: Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica)
- Northwest Territories: Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)
- Nova Scotia: Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
- Nunavut: Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta)
- Ontario: Common Loon (Gavia immer)
- Prince Edward Island: Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
- Quebec: Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiaca)
- Saskatchewan: Sharp-Tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus)
- Yukon Territory: Common Raven (Corvus corax)
Momentum builds to make Canada jay the national bird. Radio Canada International.