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Meet The (Unofficial) National Bird of Canada, The Canada Jay

Welcome to the land of maple leaves, friendly faces, and awe-inspiring landscapes—Canada! While the country is known for its moose, beavers, and even its famed Canada Goose, there’s an unsung avian hero you may not have heard of: the Canada Jay, also known as the Gray Jay.

This humble bird captured Canadian hearts in an online poll conducted by Canadian Geographic, outlasting contenders like the Canada Goose and the Common Loon. Intrigued? Stick around as we reveal why this hardy bird, capable of thriving in temperatures as cold as -30C, has unofficially flapped its way into becoming Canada’s national bird.

Quick Info About The Canada Jay

Scientific Name:Perisoreus canadensis
Average Size:10 to 13 inches (25 to 33 cm)
Average Wingspan:17 to 18 inches (43 to 46 cm)
Average Weight:2.0 to 2.3 oz (57 to 65 g)
Average Lifespan:Up to 17 years
Geographical Range:North America; found in every province and territory of Canada
Habitat:Boreal and subalpine forests
Conservation Status:Least Concern (IUCN Red List)

Meet The Canada Jay, (Unofficial) National Bird of Canada

The Canada Jay is a medium-sized bird with a round body, sporting a combination of soft grey plumage on its back and head, and a lighter shade on its belly. One of its striking features is its crestless head, which gives it a distinctive, almost ‘clean-cut’ look. It has large, dark eyes that lend it a curious appearance, as if it’s always alert and aware of its surroundings.

Both males and females look alike; sexual dimorphism is not prominently visible in this species. However, the males are slightly larger than the females, although this is not easily noticeable to the casual observer.

As omnivores, Canada Jays have a varied diet that includes berries, insects, small mammals, and even scavenged food from humans. They are known for their incredible memory, which helps them locate caches of food that they hide for leaner times.

Their adaptability allows them to survive in tough environmental conditions, thus playing a crucial role in the ecosystem as both predator and prey. Their predators include hawks, eagles, and owls.

Canada Gray Jay 1

Where Does The Canada Jay Live?

The Canada Jay is highly adaptable and calls the boreal and subalpine forests its home. These forests are chiefly located in the northern regions of Canada, although the bird’s range does extend into some parts of Alaska and the northern United States.

Their choice of habitat is intriguing; they seem to prefer colder climates and are well-suited to life in regions where winter temperatures can plummet to -30C. It’s also not uncommon to spot these resourceful birds at elevations up to 3,500 meters (11,500 feet).

Why and When Did The Canada Jay Become The Unofficial National Bird of Canada?

Although the Canada Jay’s designation as Canada’s national bird is not official, its journey towards this status is a story of public passion and appreciation for the qualities it embodies. In 2016, Canadian Geographic conducted an online poll followed by a panel debate featuring ornithologists.

The bird’s qualities—its resilience, adaptability, and friendly demeanor—were key arguments in the debate that led to its unofficial selection as the national bird.

The Canada Jay holds a cultural significance for Canadians as a symbol of toughness, ingenuity, and the ability to thrive in harsh conditions. These traits are often seen as reflective of the Canadian identity. Notably, the bird’s capability to stay in Canada year-round, as opposed to migrating like the Canada Goose, scored it extra points in the public’s eye.

However, the bid to officially designate the Canada Jay as the national bird during Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations did not materialize. Some criticisms have been raised over its selection, as it is not as readily recognizable as the Canada Goose or the Common Loon, but its fan base continues to grow.

Canada Gray Jay 2

Where is The Canada Jay Featured in Canada?

Although the Canada Jay is not officially Canada’s national bird, it has made appearances in various aspects of Canadian culture. You might find its likeness in provincial tourism brochures, nature guides, and even in educational materials.

However, it is not featured on the national flag, banknotes, or other official symbols. Its name has also not been used to designate currency or other national items, but its growing popularity suggests it may find more formal places of honor in the future.

Names of The Canada Jay

The Canada Jay goes by several names, making it a versatile character in the avian world. It is most commonly referred to as the “Gray Jay,” but it has also been called the “Whiskey Jack,” a name derived from the indigenous Cree language term “Wisakedjak,” which refers to a trickster figure in Algonquian mythology.

The scientific name for the Canada Jay is Perisoreus canadensis. While the bird is known by these main names in Canada, in the United States, it is primarily called the “Gray Jay.”

Is The Canada Jay Endangered?

As of now, the Canada Jay is classified as a species of “Least Concern” according to the IUCN Red List. This means that currently, the bird is not facing immediate threats of extinction. However, like many species around the globe, the Canada Jay faces challenges due to climate change, particularly in the form of warmer winters that affect its food storage behaviors.

There are ongoing research and conservation efforts to study how changing climates could impact the Canada Jay. Some unique strategies include community science programs where citizens can report sightings or conditions that might affect the bird, contributing to larger databases that help in its conservation.

Canada Gray Jay 3

Interesting Facts About The Canada Jay

  1. Winter Survival Skills: The Canada Jay has an extraordinary ability to store food, caching thousands of bits of food in trees to survive the harsh winter.
  2. Friendly Demeanor: These birds are unusually friendly towards humans and have been known to land on a person’s hand, especially if offered food.
  3. Mate for Life: Canada Jays form monogamous pairs that stay together for life, emphasizing their commitment to partnership.
  4. Intelligent Foragers: They are known for their intelligence and problem-solving skills, often using their beaks and feet to get to food in challenging environments.
  5. Cultural Significance: In indigenous Algonquian mythology, the “Whiskey Jack” is considered a trickster figure, adding an extra layer of cultural significance to the bird.
  6. Versatile Eaters: Their diet is omnivorous, consuming everything from berries and small insects to fungi and carrion.
  7. Parenting Skills: Both male and female Canada Jays share parental duties. The male even brings food to the nesting female and later helps in feeding the young.

Other Beautiful Birds Native To Canada

  • Common Loon: Known for its eerie, haunting calls that reverberate across northern lakes during summer months.
  • Canada Goose: Easily recognizable and sometimes considered a nuisance, this bird is nonetheless iconic.
  • Snowy Owl: A majestic bird often associated with the Arctic, it is recognized for its striking white plumage.
  • Black-capped Chickadee: A small, charming bird that is also very resilient and can endure the harsh Canadian winters.
  • Northern Cardinal: Though more commonly associated with the United States, this vibrant red bird can also be found in southern parts of Canada.

What Is Another National Animal of Canada?

In contrast to the unofficial status of the Canada Jay, the beaver holds the official title of Canada’s national animal. The beaver, scientifically known as Castor canadensis, is a semi-aquatic rodent known for its dam-building skills.

The animal holds significant historical and economic importance for Canada, as the fur trade centered around beaver pelts was one of the driving forces behind early European exploration and settlement in Canada. Today, the beaver appears on the Canadian nickel and is a symbol of industriousness and perseverance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why isn’t the Canada Jay the official national bird of Canada?

While the Canada Jay was chosen as Canada’s national bird by popular vote in an initiative led by Canadian Geographic in 2016, the federal government has not officially recognized it as such.

What does the Canada Jay eat?

The Canada Jay has an omnivorous diet that includes berries, small insects, fungi, and carrion.

Do Canada Jays migrate?

No, Canada Jays are mostly non-migratory and are found year-round in Canada.

Are Canada Jays friendly to humans?

Yes, they are unusually friendly and have been known to approach humans, often in search of food.

What other symbols are considered national symbols in Canada?

Apart from the beaver, the maple leaf is another widely recognized national symbol of Canada. It is featured prominently on the country’s flag and represents unity, tolerance, and peace.

Other National Symbols of Canada

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