Animals, News, Science

Canada’s New National Bird?

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Gray jay. Image: Alan D. Wilson
Gray jay. Image: Alan D. Wilson

Will the gray jay be Canada’s new national bird?

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS) thinks the gray jay should be named the national bird of Canada. It is hoping the federal government will make it official in time for the country’s 150th birthday in 2017.

The RCGS and Canadian Geographic magazine started the National Bird Project in January 2015. The goal was to choose one bird from the 450 species that live in Canada to become a national symbol.

Nearly 50,000 Canadians voted for the bird they thought best represented Canada. Then a panel of experts considered the top five choices and debated which one should become our national bird. The winner was announced by the RCGS on November 16.

There are many good reasons for choosing the gray jay. It is found in all 13 Canadian provinces and territories, living in our boreal and mountain forests, and it remains in Canada all year round.

According to First Nations folklore, gray jays sometimes help lost hunters find their way home by singing and flying from tree to tree. The birds often accompanied early European explorers in Canada. Today they frequently visit remote lumber camps or research stations, and follow hikers along trails in the forest.

Some people think the gray jay is a bad choice because it isn’t well known. They say one of the other top birds should have been chosen. Three of those birds – the snowy owl, the common loon and the chickadee – are already provincial birds. The fourth bird, the Canada goose, is not popular in much of North America and Europe because its poop makes a mess wherever it goes.

The gray jay is a smart and friendly bird. It is a member of the corvid family, like ravens and crows, and is about the same size as a robin or blue jay. It is sometimes called the whiskey jack (from its Cree name, Wisakedjak) or the Canada jay.

Related sites
Learn more about gray jays:  http://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/birds/gray-jay.html
Guide to birds of the boreal forest:  http://www.borealbirds.org/comprehensive-boreal-bird-guide
Join the Great Backyard Bird Count:  http://gbbc.birdcount.org

CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS
By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
The article explains that there are two sides to the debate surrounding the gray jay: those who wanted it to be the national bird and those who didn’t. But could you imagine if there was another point of view? What if birds could ‘chirp in’ and take part in the discussion? Select a bird of your choice and write a paragraph from the bird’s point of view explaining why it should be picked as Canada’s national bird.

Reading Prompt: Making inferences/interpreting texts
After thousands of Canadians voted on which bird should be chosen, a panel of experts debated the pros and cons of each bird. What criteria do you think they used to determine which bird should be Canada’s national bird?

Primary
Make inferences about texts using stated and implied ideas from the texts as evidence (OME, Reading: 1.5).

Junior
Use stated and implied ideas in texts to make inferences and construct meaning (OME, Reading: 1.5).

Intermediate
Develop and explain interpretations of increasingly complex or difficult texts using stated and implied ideas from the texts to support their interpretations (OME, Reading: 1.5).

Language Feature: Rhyming
Ms. Ritsakis’ class was studying birds and one student exclaimed, “I like the gray jay the best because the name sounds nice.” “Well,” replied Ms. Ritsakis, “you probably think it sounds nice because ‘gray’ and ‘jay’ rhyme.”

Can you think of at least 5 birds and create rhyming names to describe them, such as a “love dove” or a “bobbin’ robin”.