Canada's new national bird is the gray jay

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The gray jay has been chosen as Canada's national bird

The gray jay has been named Canada's national bird after tens of thousands of votes were cast online, ruffling the feathers of some ornithologists.

Although Canada has no official bird, the Canada goose has long been a part of the national identity.

So too has the common loon, which appears on the country's dollar coin, affectionately dubbed the "loonie".

But after a two-year search, the diminutive gray jay soared above its more famous feathered friends.

But the bird won't hold official status, at least not yet.

According to the federal government, the beaver and the Canadian horse are the only animals holding the status of Canada's official symbols.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The gray jay looks mild, but it can withstand temperatures as low as -30C.

Canadians flocked to vote when the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS) began its search for a national bird last year.

After 50,000 ballots were cast online, the finalists were whittled down to just five contenders: the Canada goose, the common loon, the gray jay, the black-capped chickadee and the snowy owl.

In true parliamentary fashion, a panel debate featuring five ornithologists, each assigned to represent one of the birds, followed.

In the end, Canadians' enthusiasm for an underdog (or underbird) won out, and the gray jay knocked its rivals off their perch.

Unlike the Canada goose, which migrates to California like so many of Canada's celebrities, the gray jay largely stays put in the land of its birth and can be found in every province and territory.

And while it may not be as cool as the bald eagle, the gray jay is a hearty bird that thrives in temperatures as cold as -30C.

Friendly and intelligent, the gray jay "enjoys the same brain-to-body ratio as dolphins and chimps", according to a handout provided by Canadian Geographic.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna presided over the bird debate.

Both Green Party leader Elizabeth May and Laureen Harper, the wife of the former prime minister, championed the gray jay.