Canada actually doesn’t have a national bird – yet. But the Canadian Geographic Society, after a two-year search, has made an official recommendation to the Canadian government to adopt the gray jay as Canada’s bird. They hope it will be officially announced during Canada’s 150th birthday this year.
Why the gray jay?
The gray jay (also called the whiskey jack or Canada jay) truly is a Canadian bird. They are found in all provinces and territories. Unlike the loon, snowy owl or chickadee, the gray jay is not already a bird of any other province or territory.
Whiskey jacks are also very “Canadian” in spirit. Like (most) Canadians, they don’t mind the cold. In fact, they are known as “resident” birds, meaning they don’t migrate to warmer climates in winter. They are also very determined, hearty birds. Gray jays will nest in snowy weather as early as February, sitting on their eggs in temperatures as low as -30 °C. Brrrr! Other birds wait until spring to lay their eggs.
Gray jays are very smart, friendly creatures. They are related to crows and ravens from the corvid family of birds. Corvids are highly intelligent and social with a brain-to-body ratio equivalent to chimps and dolphins, according to Canadian Geographic.
Gray jays are well known as companions of Indigenous Peoples, with a long history of helping to identify predators with their calls and whistles while hunting. Historically, early European explorers appreciated their friendly manner as they followed them on their travels. Today, they are common visitors at mining and lumber camps and research stations.
Why gray jays are also called whiskey jacks
Whiskey jacks have always been important to Indigenous Peoples. In some cultural stories, the whiskey jack can change shape and has a playful, generous spirit. The name “whiskey jack” is a rough translation of the Cree name Wisakedjak. For western Indigenous Peoples, seeing a whiskey jack early in the morning is a sign of good luck.
Where can you see a whiskey jack?
If you live in the city, you might not have seen a whiskey jack. But go into the mountain forests and whiskey jacks may just find you! They like to check out people. And, if you’re having a picnic, they may come right down to the ground to snitch some food.