Annual Central Alberta bird count Dec. 18

Boreal forest gray jays could become national bird

The gray jay, also known as the whiskey jack. (Photo illustration by Canadian Geographic; photo: Alan D. Wilson)

Anyone participating this year’s annual Central Alberta Christmas bird count might want to be on the lookout for one bird in particular in the forest — the gray jay a.k.a. whiskey jack.

The friendly, tough and clever bird was recently chosen by the Royal Canadian Geographic Society as the preferred candidate to become Canada’s national bird. The boreal forest bird is found in every Canadian province and territory.

It was ultimately chosen by the society after a contest attracted almost 50,000 online voters, a public debate and deliberations by a panel of experts.

The federal government has not committed to naming a national bird but the Royal Canadian Geographic Society suggests Canada’s upcoming 150th birthday in 2017 is a great opportunity.

“The species is medium in size, with a rounded, crestless head and a short bill. Mainly dark grey, they have lighter underparts and long, white-tipped tails. Gray jays seek out cold climates as they store their food all year long,” the society says on its website.

The bird is known for having adapted to living in cold regions and is also considered the smartest bird in the world. It is seldom seen elsewhere in North America.

The gray jay is not an official bird species anywhere in Canada or any other country. The common loon is Ontario’s bird and the snowy owl is Quebec’s bird. Their Cree name is wisakedjak and they are part of First Nations folklore. They have also been known as the Canada jay.

The annual bird count for Central Alberta takes place on Dec. 18 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and participants can count by watching birdfeeders, on foot, by vehicle or any other mode of transportation. Owls can be observed before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m.

Central Alberta has many species of birds to see at this time of year, including woodpeckers, crows, chickadees, nuthatches, red polls and blue jays to name a few.

Chances of seeing more birds increase when temperatures are warmer. The long-range forecast shows that daytime temperatures are expected to start to warm up to about -14C on the day of the count.

Participants are asked to call Judy Boyd at 403-358-1098 to confirm where they are counting so that duplication doesn’t occur.

After the count there will be a potluck supper at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre at 6 p.m. Please bring your own plates, cups, utensils, drink and a hot or cold dish.

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