Today I was alerted to some disturbing news via an op-ed in The National Post: Canada, my native country, still does not have an official national bird.
Can you believe it? Canada, a country home to at least 426 bird species (according to birdcanada.com) does not have a single national bird to call its own. This is even more shocking when you learn that a whopping 106 of the world’s 195 countries do have official national birds. America has the bald eagle. New Zealand has the Kiwi. Jamaica’s bird, the Doctor Bird, has achieved an advanced degree. And yet Canada, a country that deeply loves birds, still does not have an official bird.
As writer David M. Bird (HIS REAL NAME!) explains:
One in five Canadians spends an average of at least 133 days a year watching, monitoring, feeding, filming or photographing the 450 or so different kinds of birds in our country. It almost doubles the 70 days a year Canadians spend gardening. More than a quarter of our households have installed feeders and bird houses in our backyards and almost 10 percent of us have bought bird identification books and binoculars and have taken trips specifically to see birds. Canadians attend hundreds of bird festivals all over North America. This is big bucks for our economy.
And that’s not all birds have done for Canada:
But it’s not just about the money. Birds do a lot for humans. They eat pests, pollinate our plants and crops and disperse seeds. Their eggs and meat (yes, chickens are birds) feed us and their feathers keep us warm. They have even helped us win wars by teaching our military about flight, camouflage and sentry systems, and by acting as vital message carriers.
Birds are so integral to the fabric of Canada’s national identity that our one-dollar coin not only features a loon on it, but is called “a Loonie” by actual adults.
As a Canadian working at an American magazine, I am often forced to write about the myriad issues plaguing your country. I’d ask now, that for just one minute, we all take a moment to cast our gazes northward, and look at the crisis engulfing us beyond the 49th parallel. I spoke with two of my Canadian co-workers, and they feel exactly as I do.
“It’s truly a disgrace that we don’t have a national bird,” senior writer Lisa Ryan told me. “There are so many birds in the world, and I’m confident just through logic that at least some of them are Canadian. If we, as a country, are as polite as ‘they’ say, then why are we being so rude about our birds and not considering their feelings? Shame on us.”
“It’s an embarrassment,” added senior editor and proud Montreal native Ruth Spencer. “As a Canadian living in the United States, I experience this shame every day. When the topic of national birds inevitably comes up at dinner or drinks, Americans gleefully recount tales of the Bald Eagle while I sit in silence.”
Bird ends his piece on a beautiful and poignant note, which I would like to share for you now:
We also celebrate birds because of their intrinsic value. Who can deny that birds entertain us in so many ways with their beauty, their song and their flight? How many great writers, artists, filmmakers and even aviators and astronauts were inspired by these amazing creatures? In short, a world without birds would not just be a biologically diminished world but also an emotionally diminished one. And if we lost our birds, we would lose ourselves.
Canada — please put this right. Choose a national bird today, so I may hold my head up high in my adopted country once again.