Canada’s National Bird
It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds. ~ Aesop
In November 2016, The Royal Canadian Geographic Society announced that the Whiskey Jack or Grey Jay had been chosen as Canada’s national bird. Choosing a bird that could be identified as a symbol of The Great White North was a two year undertaking that “ignited a groundswell of public support” according to Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna.
Although it didn’t win the popular vote, the panel consulted bird experts who ultimately helped tip the scales in favour of the tenacious and hardy member of the jay family. The two birds that had more votes than the whiskey jack were the loon, which is Ontario’s provincial bird and the snowy owl, which is Quebec’s provincial bird, which essentially disqualified both from the list. Another reason the whiskey jack won out is because it is native to every Canadian province and territory yet only lives in parts of the northern most states.
Those fortunate enough to encounter these inquisitive birds on their travels can attest to their friendly and often mischievous nature. Put a small bite of food on your palm anywhere these birds are found and you are likely to have one perched in your hand in no time.
3 Awesome Things About the Whiskey Jack
1) Family Corvidae
Another common name for the whiskey jack is the grey jay because they belong to the family corvidae which includes crows, ravens, magpies, nutcrackers, jackdaws and of course, jays. Birds in this family are known for their intelligence. Ravens, for example are thought to have what is called theory of mind, which is a way scientists measure social cognition. A creature with theory of mind shows the ability to understand that other living things have their own thoughts, and perspectives and that these may be different from their own.
2) Food Caches
One way in which these birds demonstrate their intelligence is by the intricate way in which they store food. Much like squirrels, these crafty birds spend the summer months building food caches for the winter months. They form food items into little, round balls called bolus’ by manipulating it in their mouths and coating it with saliva. Then, they hide the bolus under lichen, in bark crevices or among conifer needles. They are capable of caching thousands of balled food items for months either scattered around or in small stockpiles
3) Mythical Creatures
The name whiskey jack is most likely an anglicized form of the Anlgonquin name Wisakedjak, who is known for being a trickster in several first nation’s mythology. Most often, the deity is known as a benevolent creature, often friendly and whose lessons contain an element of humor. However, in some stories he was destructive. For example, he is blamed for starting the great flood which destroyed mankind.