• June 1938 cover featuring a saw-whet owl

    A saw-whet owl on the June 1938 cover of the Canadian Geograhical Journal. (Photo: P.A. Taverner)

A monochrome saw-whet owl peers over its shoulder on the cover of the June 1938 issue of the Canadian Geographical Journal. A snowy owl takes flight from the cover of Canadian Geographic’s Birds Photography 2015 special collector’s edition. Birds have graced the face of more than 40 issues of Canadian Geographic over the 86 years this magazine has been in print, and it’s no wonder why. The bright colours, piercing eyes and arresting poses of Canada’s more than 450 plumed species make great subjects.

However, not one of Canada’s hundreds of species officially represents the country as its national bird. That’s why last year, Canadian Geographic launched the National Bird Project to designate an official bird for Canada by 2017. Canadians cast close to 50,000 votes for their favourite birds and now, it’s down to the top five species: the common loon, the snowy owl, the gray jay/whiskey jack, the Canada goose and the black-capped chickadee.

On Sept. 19, an expert panel of judges, including Steven Price, President of Bird Studies Canada, George Elliott Clarke, Parliamentary Poet Laureate, and novelist Noah Richler, will gather at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa to debate the merits of the species they believe is most worthy of the title (get tickets here!). Then in its December 2016 issue, Canadian Geographic will announce its recommendation for Canada’s national bird. From there, it’s up to the federal government to make an official declaration.

To celebrate the National Bird Project and the upcoming debate, we’ve gathered a selection of bird covers from the Canadian Geographic archives along with their original captions from each decade the magazine has been in print.

June 1938

“In Forest Shadow” Saw-Whet Owl, Point Pelee, Ontario (Photo: P.A. Taverner)

June 1948

Wood Thrush (Photo: W. V Crich)

April 1957

Courtship of trumpeter swans at Delta Waterfowl Research Station, Manitoba (Photo: Richard Harrington)

January 1969

A whooping crane chick, approximately two weeks old, enjoys a safe haven at the U.S. Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife’s Patuxet Research Center in Maryland. (Photo: Rex Schmidt, U.S. Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife)

October 1975

Gannets and murres on Funk Island, northeast Cape Freels, Newfoundland. Colonies of common murres are often found beside colonies of gannets and two communities seem to live in accord with each other. (Photo: William Threlfall)

June/July 1987

What would summer be to thousands of Canadians without the call of the loon echoing across inland lakes? But with chicks dying of starvation on acid-dead lakes, the day may come when the cries of the loon are heard no more. Robert Alvo spent four summers studying the success of loon pairs in raising young on acidic lakes. (Photo: Pam Hickman/Valan Photos)

May/June 1996

Northern saw-whet owl (Photo: Aubrey Lang)

January/February 2004

The mountain bluebird feeds mainly on insects and berries of the boreal forest. A member of the thrush family, it is the most migratory of North American bluebird specieis. (Photo: G. & R. Grambo/Firstlight)

Birds Photography 2015

Northern gannets (Photo: Brad James/CG Photo Club)