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Why the Plastic Flamingo is the Official Bird of Madison, Wisconsin

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Most states have an official state bird, but it's less common for a city to declare an official bird. About 28 American cities have proclaimed a fowl of choice: Chicago’s is the peregrine falcon and Key West, Florida’s is the chicken—and then there’s Madison, Wisconsin.

In 2009, Madison declared the pink flamingo its official bird—the plastic pink flamingo. The flamingo obviously isn’t native to Wisconsin, and the inventor of the plastic yard flamingo was from Massachusetts, not the Badger State.

So, what gives? In 1979, a few members of the student government at the University of Wisconsin-Madison decided to prank the dean. The group, known as the Pail & Shovel Party, was already known for their tricks. They were responsible for the replica of the Statue of Liberty stuck in Lake Mendota the previous year. They also threw a $10,000 toga party for the student body—approved by John Belushi himself—and purchased toys to give to students waiting in long lines at class registration.

This time, they planned a prank that would also be the perfect “Welcome Back” message to students. On the first day of the fall semester, they decorated the lawn near the dean's office with exactly 1008 of the kitschy birds. 

In honor of the frivolous but historic flamingo incident, local newspaper columnist Doug Moe lobbied in 2009 to have the toy named the official bird of the city. "I mean, Madison is a city with five official songs," he wrote. "Our council once debated renaming Bassett Street Ho Chi Minh Trail. Our manhole covers are sewer access covers. Through it all, we've always managed to laugh at ourselves. So what better symbol than the plastic pink flamingo?"

The City Council voted in favor of the status, 15-4. “If you don't have a little fun, [life]'s not worth living,” Councilwoman Marsha Rummel said.

Today, the legacy lives on in more than just the flamingo’s status as the official bird of the city: One of the infamous birds has been archived at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

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History
Found: A Rare Map of Australia, Created During the 17th Century
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More than 40 years before Captain James Cook landed on Australia’s eastern coast in 1770, renowned Dutch cartographer Joan Blaeu created an early map of the Land Down Under. Using geographical information gleaned from Dutch navigator Abel Tasman in the 1640s, it was the first map to include the island state of Tasmania and name New Zealand, and the only one to call Australia “Nova Hollandia.”

Very few copies—if any—of the 1659 map, titled Archipelagus Orientalis (Eastern Archipelago), were thought to have survived. But in 2010, a printing was discovered in a Swedish attic. After being restored, the artifact is newly on display at the National Library of Australia, in the capital city of Canberra, according to news.com.au.

The seller’s identity has been kept under wraps, but it’s thought that the map belonged to an antiquarian bookseller who closed his or her business in the 1950s. For decades, the map sat amidst other papers and books until it was unearthed in 2010 and put up for auction.

The National Library acquired the 17th century wall map in 2013 for approximately $460,000. After a lengthy restoration process, it recently went on display in its Treasures Gallery, where it will hang until mid-2018.

As for other surviving copies of the map: a second version was discovered in a private Italian home and announced in May 2017, according to Australian Geographic. It ended up selling for more than $320,000.

[h/t news.com.au]

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geography
What's the Difference Between a Lake and a Pond?
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Around 71 percent of the Earth's surface is covered in water, which is why geographers have coined so many names to describe the forms it takes. But what’s the real difference between, say, a lake and a pond, a spring and an oasis, or a creek and an arroyo?

Vox gets granular with geography in the video below, explaining the subtle distinctions between everything from a bay (a part of an ocean, surrounded by water on three sides) to a barachois (a coastal lagoon, separated from the ocean by a sand bar). The five-minute explainer also provides maps and real-life examples, and describes how certain bodies of water got their names. (For example, the word geyser stems from geysa, meaning "to gush.")

Guess what? A geyser is also a type of spring. Learn more water-based trivia—and impress your nature-loving friends the next time you go camping—by watching the video below.

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