Common Loon

The United States boasts the majestic bald eagle; Mexico has chosen the golden eagle; and both Hungary and Mongolia lay claim to the saker falcon.

Unlike those countries and scores of others, Canada has no national bird. Thankfully, The Royal Canadian Geographic Society has launched a determined effort to change that in time for the country’s 150th birthday next year. Five avian finalists have been selected, but one soars above all others as the most fitting feathered symbol of this land.

Cue its mournful call and hail the common loon.

It can be found in much of Canada, features striking black-and-white plumage, and has notable traits apart from its call, such as solid bones (unlike most other fowl) and an ability to dive as deep as 80 metres.

Dining on small fish, the loon is neither a razor-clawed killer nor a scavenger (take that, advocates of the snowy owl and raven). And its chicks can swim immediately after they hatch, although they prefer riding on a parent’s back. (A habit familiar to countless Canadians with 20-something kids.)

All in all, it’s an estimable creature.

No wonder the loon topped a recent survey by the geographic society asking people to select a national bird. With almost 50,000 votes cast, and close to 13,000 essays submitted, the loon was chosen by 13,995 respondents. In second spot was the snowy owl, with almost 9,000 votes. The other top-five finalists are the Canada goose, the gray jay (or whiskey jack), and the black-capped chickadee. In other words, a pest and two rather commonplace specimens.

Quebec has already named the snowy owl as its provincial bird and, according to The Canadian Press, there’s concern in La belle province that Canada might be “absconding” with its avian symbol. Heaven forbid.

The obvious solution is to declare the loon Canada’s official avian avatar. Yes, it’s Ontario’s provincial bird but, in keeping with our traditional role in Confederation, we don’t mind sharing.

—An editorial from the Toronto Star

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