Doug Brown/Flickr Commons
Mark Rendell

Go Ravens: Vote Early and Vote Often for Canada’s National Bird

Power-outage-causing symbol of Yellowknife is on the ballot, but needs your support to win

Picture this: it’s bird prom night and over 450 different species are squawking their way around the gymnasium ahead of the big announcement of bird prom king or queen. The Common Loon is strutting confidently. “I’m so handsome, I have to win,” he says, “and I’m on the Loonie.” Canada Goose, she’s looking beautiful as always. “I have Canada in my name,” she says smugly, “and they named a jacket after me.”

Raven is hanging out in the bathroom smoking cigarettes. It’s not like he cares.

The big moment comes. The bespectacled great horned owl flutters up to the microphone. “The winner is… Raven!” she says with astonishment.

He must have stuffed the box, that trickster.

That’s pretty much the scenario Yellowknife city councillor Dan Wong is hoping for (minus the ballot stuffing) in Canada’s great ornithological popularity contest. The Royal Canadian Geographical Society is hosting an online vote to pick a national bird ahead of the country’s 150th anniversary in 2017. Wong, and Whitehorse city councillor John Streicker, are trying to get Northerners to vote en masse for the northern bird.

“The raven is a resilient, adaptable and intelligent bird and I think that summarizes Canadians,” says Wong. “There is the ptarmigan. They’re  pretty awesome and cute, and also very tasty. But I’d be surprised if other Canadians know what a ptarmigan is.”

Wong and his pro-raven friends have their work cut out. Right now, the common loon, with its PR head start courtesy of the Canadian Mint, is leading the flock with around 6,750 votes. It is followed by the snowy owl, the grey jay and the rather obvious Canada goose, all with over 2,000 votes. The raven is currently nestled down around 1,000.

“A lot of people try to demonize the raven, call it mischievous and inelegant, so I think the raven is due for a serious public relations boost,” said Wong.

Why go raven?

Well, for one thing, they’re almost everywhere in the country. And who wouldn’t want our civic bird, and the source of most of our power outages, as our national bird?

Then there’s the raven’s first-rate mythological pedigree. In many Inuit and First Nations stories, the raven is the creator of the world or the being who brings light. That said, in many stories he’s also a trickster driven by insatiable greed – perhaps not the image Canadians want to cultivate following an impressive win for the worst environmental record in the developed world.

Further afield, a raven was the first bird off of Noah’s Ark. And according to rabbinical tradition, ravens were one of only three couples on the ark to get frisky, to Noah’s prudish consternation. Sexually liberated? That’s what people say about Canadians, right?

Despite the raven’s mere 1,000 votes, the bird is getting some illustrious support. Noah Richler, son of Mordecai Richler, has come to its defense on the Canadian Geographical Society website:  “Above all, Raven is resourceful, a survivor, as the territory compels most Canadians to be… [The] tendency — to take to the road out of necessity and then return home and relate the things he’s seen — is an atavistic Canadian one of hunting and gathering. From the first Thule hunters to the Newfoundlanders of today travelling to Alberta to hunt and gather work, it has been the Canadian’s lot to scour the land for opportunity, and then to bring home a tall tale or two.”

Why the raven might win

Along with the slightly un-Canadian mythological association with trickiness and fecundity, in reality ravens don’t act like the  stereotypical mild-mannered Canadian at all.

According to an article from natureworldnews.com, “It appears that ravens may be even more viciously political than your average high school drama queen. That’s at least according to a new study of these highly intelligent birds, who appear to have a social system that’s characterized by alliances, betrayal, and sabotage between ‘friends.'”

Apparently, raven society is a bit like 18th-century England: food, mating privileges and protection are all distributed within strictly defined hierarchies. When lower-class ravens try mingling beyond their means, other ravens are quick to attack them and put them back in their place.

That doesn’t seem to square with the common self-perception of Canada as a relatively equal place (however, deluded that may be). But, hey I’m sure common loons are mean-spirited too.