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Gray Jays Get Their Old Name Back: Hello Canada Jay!

By Gustave Axelson
Canada Jay by Tim Harding via Birdshare.
Canada Jay by Tim Harding via Birdshare.

Perisoreus canadensis was known as the Canada Jay from the 19th century until 1957—when the American Ornithologists’ Union changed the bird’s common name to Gray Jay.

The name change was considered a double slight by many Canadian ornithologists and birders: the loss of a national moniker compounded by an Americanized spelling of gray (not grey). [See Canada’s Gray Jay Debate, Winter 2018]

But now, the bird is the Canada Jay again, after a 9-to-1 vote by a committee of the American Ornithological Society (as the AOU is now called) to restore the species’s official common name.

Retired Algonquin Provincial Park naturalist Dan Strickland, who has studied the jays in the field for decades and pioneered research into their unique winter survival strategies, made the proposal to the AOS for the name change.

“I am pleased that the AOS has accepted our findings, corrected the mistake made by their predecessors, and restored ‘Canada Jay’ to its original and rightful place as the official English name of this quintessentially Canadian bird,” Strickland said.

Strickland and other Canadian ornithologists hoped that the name change would add momentum to a two-year campaign to get the Canada Jay recognized as the country’s official national bird. But the federal Department of Canadian Heritage seemed unmoved by news of the Canada Jay’s restoration, reiterating the response it has given repeatedly that the government is not currently considering the adoption of a bird as a national symbol.

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library

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