What is Canada’s National Bird?

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Birds are commonly used as territorial symbols. The Snowy Owl embodies Québec, the Common Loon represents Ontario, while the Rock Ptarmigan symbolizes Nunavut. Yet, at present, there is no national bird of Canada.

The Canadian Raptor Conservancy (CRC) hopes to fill this void by collecting 200,000 signatures and designating the name of the bird with the largest number of petitioners to a local MP for presentation to the House of Commons.

According to the CRC, designating a national bird would boost Canada’s sense of identity similar to the maple leaf, maple syrup, ice hockey and lacrosse, and the beaver. The group has suggested the Red-tailed Hawk and the Canada Goose, but is leaving it up to Canadians to choose “their” bird.

The debate over choosing a Canadian bird is not a new one. In the early twentieth century, many nature enthusiasts struggled between the White-throated Sparrow and the Canada Goose as Canada’s national bird. Certainly, Jack Miner from Kingsville, Ontario, had strong opinions on the matter:

The white-throated is a lovely bird, but not a bit more so than the white-crowned sparrow, bluebird or some warbler, or yet the rose-breasted grosbeak. My, what a beautiful, lovely, musical variety we have to select from! And, I say, by all means let us have a Canadian national bird, but let it be the Canada Goose, the noblest creature that ever lived on land, in air, or on the water – yes, and on the ice or snow he is perfectly at home.

Miner, born in the United States, compared the Canada Goose with the American Eagle by proclaiming that “our Canada Goose is far superior.” Moralizing the bird, he professed that the Canada Goose “will settle down to raise a family, of from four to eight, as all Canadians should. Wild geese pair for life. I never knew them to even make an application for divorce.”

The CRC has outlined some criteria to the public when submitting their bird suggestion: a bird should be found in every Canadian provinces, or most of them; a bird should not already be chosen as a Canadian provincial bird or another country’s national bird; and a bird should be known by the general public and be seen on a regular basis in their daily activities. If you would like to contribute to the debate over Canada’s official bird, the bird petition can be found on the CRC website.

See: K. Greer and L. Cameron, “‘Swee-ee-et, Can-a-da, Can-a-da, Can-a-da’: sensuous landscapes of birdwatching in the eastern provinces, 1900-1939,” Material History Review 62 (Fall 2005): 35-48.

Featured image: The Canadian field-naturalist, 1919. Photo by Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club. Harvard University, Museums of Comparative Zoology, Ernst Mayr Library. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.


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