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National Bird Project essays

  • Jan 15, 2015
  • 1,359 words
  • 6 minutes
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Canada is home to more than 450 bird species, yet somehow Canada is still one of the few nations that does not recognize a national bird. Canadian Geographic, with the help of Bird Studies Canada and other bird conservation organizations, is hoping to change that with the National Bird Project. Vote for your favourite species and contribute your own short essay today at The National Bird Project.

The essays collected below are Canadian Geographic‘s editors’ picks for the best recent reader submissions to the National Bird Project website. We will continue to feature our favourite new pieces on the CG Compass blog. Join the discussion on Twitter using #CanadaBird!

By: David M. Bird, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Ornithology, McGill University

I strongly believe that we should choose the gray jay, formerly known as the Canada jay. Here are no less than TEN compelling reasons why it would be a great choice:

1) Found in all 10 provinces and territories, it is only barely found in the U.S. in the Rocky Mountain region, and not in other places in the world.
2) A member of the corvid family, arguably the smartest birds on the planet.
3) Extremely friendly toward humans, like all Canadians; often found panhandling on cross-country ski trails.
4) Very hardy like all Canadians, having highly adapted itself to living in very cold regions.
5) Figures strongly in First Nations folklore; also called the whiskey jack.
6) Is not an endangered species and thus, not at risk of disappearing.
7) Figures prominently in the boreal forest ecological zone, constituting a vast portion of our country worthy of protection.
8) Not a hunted or nuisance species, so it is not shot by Canadians nor anyone else.
9) Is not an official bird species for any of our 10 provinces and recognized territories, nor any other country.
10) Formerly called the Canada jay by ornithologists.

In short, I cannot think of a more Canadian bird! If Canada adopts this species as its national bird, we might even be able to convince the Nomenclature Committee of the American Ornithologists’ Union to rename it the Canada jay.

The only thing going against it is that many Canadians do not see this bird every day (unless they enjoy skiing!), but lots of states and provinces as well as other countries in the world have official birds that the public does not see on a regular basis and may in fact never see them as a live bird. The fact is that once the gray jay is chosen as our official bird, it will entice Canadians to venture into the boreal forest to get familiar with it, and indeed, become very proud of it.

By: Gerald Morris, in Sault Ste Marie, Ont.

There are so many iconic birds in Canada, it’s hard to choose one to represent the country. The Canada goose bears the name of the nation, is a common sight almost everywhere there’s water and has a stubbornly brave spirit. However, it also leaves most of its Canadian range in winter, is a regulated game bird, and lets face it, it’s a goose.

The common loon is a large and handsome bird with a hauntingly beautiful call. It graces our currency and is already the provincial bird of Ontario. It too can’t handle the Canadian winter, however, and migrates during that season.

The snowy owl is a powerful and dignified predator that’s just damn cool to see, but it ranges all across the world and is only seen in the southern parts of Canada in the winter (and then, only occasionally).

The black-capped chickadee is perhaps the most pleasant bird on the list. It is gregarious and omnipresent across the country. Everyone knows what a chickadee is. But do we really want these adorable little fluff-balls as a national symbol?

I vote for the pileated woodpecker because it reconciles a lot of the problems I have with the other birds on the list. It is the largest woodpecker in North America, with approximately half its range in Canada. It is present in almost every province year-round. It plays a vital role in forests across the country: the nesting holes it excavates in trees with its powerful bill are used by many birds and mammals that aren’t able to make their own. Pileated woodpeckers also bear the colours of the Canadian flag on their heads, with the large red crest being particularly impressive. Also, while a common sight in woodlands, it is not so ever-present that a sighting of one is dull and common-place. Seeing a pileated woodpecker fly across a field in its dipping, almost carefree flying style is always an enrapturing sight.

Pileated woodpeckers are a large and impressive bird with amusing habits and an iconic style. I think they would be the best choice as a symbol for Canada. And really, in the country of the lumberjack, doesn’t a fellow forester deserve a special place of honour?

By: Sherry Kirkvold, in Victoria, B.C.

Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh go the raven wings. Loud calls from the treetops announce their presence. These are not shy birds. We know when they are present and they are so comfortable with themselves they keep their black cloak even when everything else turns white. They know who they are and are proud of it.

Raven coaxed the first people out of the clamshell. We might not be here if it were not for Raven. Ravens are found all across this great land.

As corvids they are exceedingly intelligent and clever. I would be happy to have the raven represent this great land of ours.

By: Caleb Musgrave, in Peterborough, Ont.

Though many of the other birds are very Canadian, the great gray owl personifies Canada to me. A large sentinel in the North, ever watching. Strong, bold, fierce, yet delicate and intelligent. The great gray owl patrols the northern boreal forests, like our soldiers, like our own human guardians. Never being loud and boisterous like other birds (nations), the great gray sits amongst boundless nature and accomplishes much that is never boasted.

And then add to it how the world’s first celebrity environmentalist had adopted the very name of the bird, Gray Owl. Canada is as intertwined with Archie Belaney and his story as the great gray owl is to the northern woods. Now add how inter-dependent the great gray is to the boreal forest of Canada – one of the largest ecosystems in the world – and you can quickly see the importance of such a bird to our nation’s identity.

By: Sean Sarjeant, in Calgary, Alta.

Ah, the Canada goose. It’s a funny one, but I think the essence of Canada lies underneath all that honking scruff.

A goose has a lot of muscle in those great, wide wings. Those feathers can spread wide, and as anyone will tell you, that beak packs a punch. Although they might show you some guff if you get too close for comfort, a Canada goose is fundamentally a social creature. Its real strength lies in community, and is drawn out from its environment. It spends that strength doing two things – travelling the world and helping out its flock.

Sure, golf course mishaps might happen every once in a while. But, overall, respect the goose, and it will show you the same courtesy. Maybe it just wanted you to stop dousing that putting green with toxic herbicide. Its eggs are nearby, don’t you know? Stop spraying that stuff!

Forget the crazy, enigmatic loon, the too-wise owl, the snarky blue jay, or any other bird. You want a bird, a symbol of nature, that epitomizes the everyday Canadian? Here’s the real deal. Pluck, size, range, and a healthy respect for your surroundings (humans not always included). That’s a true Canadian bird for you.

Vote for Canad’s National bird now!


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