MONTREAL — The votes are in and, if Canadians have their way, the common loon could one day join the beaver and maple leaf as an official symbol of Canada.
While the United States has the bald eagle and Britain has the robin, Canada has no national bird of its own — something the Royal Canadian Geographical Society is trying to change.
The organization launched its national bird project in January 2015, inviting Canadians to vote for their candidate of choice on the website of Canadian Geographic magazine, which it publishes.
Although the loon topped the contest with nearly 14,000 of the almost 50,000 votes cast, there's no guarantee it will emerge the winner.
A panel debate will be held in Ottawa in September, where experts will argue the merits of each of the top five birds.
The final choice will be announced Nov. 16. After that, organizers will submit their proposal to the government, probably through a private member's bill in the Commons.
When the contest ended Aug. 31, the loon had outstripped the snowy owl (8,498 votes) and the gray jay, or whiskey jack (7,918).
The Canada goose finished fourth, while the black-capped chickadee rounded out the top five.
A spokeswoman for the geographical society said the loon is familiar to Canadians because of its presence on the one dollar coin and its "haunting" call.
"It's synonymous with Canada's North and wilderness," Deborah Chapman said in an interview.
"I think when people think of the loon we think of that call, and that reminds us of the North, which is a bit about who we are."
While the Canada goose's fourth-placed finish may surprise some, given its name, Chapman pointed out the species is equally associated with leaving big messes behind and can be considered a nuisance.
Chapman also noted that the front-running loon is already the official bird of Ontario and, unlike the two runners-up, flies south to escape Canada's harsh winters, which may not make it the best symbol of the country's northern spirit.
One well-known ornithologist, who will speak at the Ottawa panel, is convinced that the third-ranked gray jay is the bird that best embodies the country.
David Bird (yes, that's his real name) says the forest-dwelling species is smart and hardy, is found throughout Canada (and isn't found elsewhere in large numbers) and isn't claimed as an official bird by any province.
Bird says gray jays are also like Canadians as a whole because they are known for their friendly and trusting natures.
"You will never find a friendlier bird than the gray jay, because they will come down and take food from your hand without being trained," he said.
"All those features make it a good choice to represent Canada."