Bird­ing

An Amer­i­can or­nitho­log­i­cal group righted an egre­gious wrong when it re­stored the proper name of our (still un­of­fi­cial) na­tional bird

Canadian Wildlife - - CONTENTS - By David Bird

An Amer­i­can or­nitho­log­i­cal group rights an egre­gious wrong by restor­ing the proper name for Canada’s (still un­of­fi­cial) na­tional bird

WHISKEY JACK, GRAY JAY, CANADA JAY. AF­TER YEARS OF

de­bate and dis­sent, which of those three names has fi­nally and defini­tively been given to the quin­tes­sen­tial Cana­dian bird, Perisoreus canaden­sis?

While Whiskey Jack, is well known among cer­tain por­tions of the Cana­dian pop­u­la­tion, many are un­fa­mil­iar with it. And worse, many would likely as­so­ciate the name with the fa­mous bev­er­age though the fact is the ori­gin of the name is un­re­lated. The ear­li­est recorded use of the name “Whisker-jack” was in 1743 though by 1831 it had be­come known as the “Whiskey-jack” among prom­i­nent tax­onomists. Ac­cord­ing to Michel Gos­selin, re­tired Cu­ra­tor of Birds at the Mu­seum of Man and Na­ture in Ot­tawa, in the spring is­sue of Que­bec Oiseaux, some of the com­monly be­lieved deriva­tions of “Whiskey-jack” arose from var­i­ous First Na­tions names, e.g. Weskuch­a­nis mean­ing “lit­tle black­smith” in Cree, Wisaked­jak mean­ing “prankster” or “trick­ster” also in Cree, and Gwi­ing­wishii, an Ojib­way name that sounds like “Whiskey Jack” to English ears.

And then there is Gray Jay (not “Grey Jay”). It rose to promi­nence in 1957 when the Amer­i­can Or­nitho­log­i­cal So­ci­ety (then known as the Amer­i­can Or­nithol­o­gists’ Union) de­cided to es­tab­lish English names for 299 bird species of North Amer­ica for its de­fin­i­tive check­list. The fact that they had adopted the Amer­i­can spell­ing par­tic­u­larly stuck in the craw of Dan Strick­land, an On­tario or­nithol­o­gist and Canada’s lead­ing author­ity on this species. Re­cently, he looked into why the name was changed from “Canada Jay,” the tra­di­tional name that had been in use for at least 185 years. He spent hours ex­am­in­ing the old files of the Check­list Com­mit­tee stored in the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tions in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. That’s where he dis­cov­ered that 60 years ago, the then Amer­i­can Or­nithol­o­gists’ Union Check­list Com­mit­tee had had no valid rea­son for im­pos­ing “Gray Jay,” the moniker of an ob­scure West Coast sub­species, as the new name for this iconic Cana­dian bird. Strick­land first wrote an ex­cel­lent and de­tailed ar­ti­cle on the sub­ject in the April 2017 is­sue of On­tario Birds. He sub­se­quently au­thored a pro­posal to re­store the name Canada Jay and sub­mit­ted it to the North Amer­i­can Clas­si­fi­ca­tion Com­mit­tee of the Amer­i­can Or­nitho­log­i­cal So­ci­ety in De­cem­ber 2017.

On June 21, 2018, the AOS is­sued its 59th Sup­ple­ment to the Check­list of North Amer­i­can Birds. In it they an­nounced that the Canada Jay was get­ting its old name back. This was, of course, fan­tas­tic news for Team Canada Jay, a loose group of bird-lovers across Canada, that had worked hard lob­by­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to make this bird a na­tional sym­bol along with the beaver, the maple tree, and our two of­fi­cial games, ice hockey and lacrosse. While that cam­paign seems to have stalled in the face of a cu­ri­ous in­dif­fer­ence and in­ac­tion by the Fed­eral gov­ern­ment, an un­of­fi­cial group of ad­vo­cates led by me and in­clud­ing painter Robert Bate­man, have been buoyed by the name change.

With the vast ma­jor­ity of its range fall­ing within Canada’s bor­ders and found in ev­ery prov­ince and ter­ri­tory, Canada Jays are friendly and in­quis­i­tive, read­ily com­ing to the hand; highly in­tel­li­gent by bird stan­dards; and adapt­able and tough enough to forego mi­gra­tion and breed through our harsh win­ter weather. You couldn’t choose a bet­ter Na­tional Bird for our coun­try. Is any­one in Ot­tawa lis­ten­ing?—

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