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The furlinator via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

6 Honking Facts About Canada Geese

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The furlinator via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

If you live in North America, you're probably familiar with—and perhaps annoyed by—the Canada goose (Branta canadensis). But how much do you know about the birds besides the fact that they're everywhere and honk a lot? Here are a few tidbits to get you better acquainted with the big, loud birds. 

1. THEY’RE SUCCESSFUL BECAUSE THEY LIKE THE HABITATS WE CREATE …

Canada geese look for a few things in a place to live and breed: grass to eat, water to drink, and unobstructed views to scan for danger. Part of the reason the geese are so common and so successful is that people have created a lot of spaces that fill those needs in the form of lawns, parks, golf courses, agricultural fields, and airports. After decades of decline due to hunting and habitat loss, all of that safe, reliable habitat has allowed the number of Canada geese in North America to grow rapidly, from less than 500,000 in the 1980s to more than 5 million today. 

2. … AND THAT’S CAUSED SOME PROBLEMS.

The increase in goose numbers and their concentration around humans has led to the goose getting branded as a nuisance or pest for eating grass and crops, fouling lawns and water with their waste, making a racket, and sometimes attacking people while defending their territory. Around airports, the geese also pose a serious danger to aircraft in the form of bird strikes. While geese and other waterfowl don’t account for very many bird-aircraft collisions, Canada geese are among the species that can cause the most damage to planes because of their size and the large flocks they fly in. Government agencies and private landowners have tried plenty of ways of deterring the geese, including audio repellents that play goose alarm calls or the calls of birds of prey; swapping out shorter grasses for taller ones that geese don’t eat; scaring them with pyrotechnics; and relocating or culling the birds.

3. THEY FORM GANGS.

Where populations are dense, Canada geese commonly form “gang broods,” groups of 20-100 goslings from different parents that move around and feed together accompanied by a few adults. This is sometimes cooperative, with families joining up so that some adults can watch the babies while the others forage for food. Sometimes, though, joining a gang brood isn’t voluntary, and dominant pairs of geese have been known to attack and kill other adults and absorb their broods into their own. Either way, it’s good for the goslings, since larger families can more easily control the best foraging spots.

4. THEY’RE MONOGAMOUS THROUGHOUT THEIR RELATIVELY LONG LIVES. 

Canada geese find mates when they’re around two years old, and pairs stay together for the rest of their lives (24 years on average). The birds usually pick partners that are similar to their own body size, a pattern known as “assortative mating.”

5. THEY FLY IN A “V” FOR EFFICIENCY.

Canada geese usually fly in a large V-shaped formation, with one bird in the lead and the others trailing behind it in two diverging lines. There are two reasons for this. First, the V shape makes the flock more energetically efficient, with vortices of air created by each goose’s flapping giving some lift to the birds behind it. Second, the formation makes it easier for the geese to maintain visual contact with each other and communicate, which helps navigation and flock cohesion.

6. THEY COULD BE THE NATIONAL BIRD OF CANADA (BUT PROBABLY WON’T BE).

Canada has more than 450 resident bird species and its fair share of national emblems but no official national bird. The Royal Canadian Geographic Society aims to fix that by next year, the nation’s 150th birthday. They’ve picked 40 candidates from the birds that call the country home and asked the public to vote for their favorite. The society will then lobby the government to give the winning bird official designation. As of this writing, the Canada goose is in a distant fourth place, with 2703 votes to the common loon’s 9209. At least it's slightly ahead of the black-capped chickadee (2530 votes).

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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iStock

According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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