Birds of a Feather


The events of January 15, 2009, gave new meaning to the fear of flying. At 3:27PM, a flock of Canada geese struck an outbound plane leaving LaGuardia, blowing out both engines and sending the aircraft plummeting to the ground. The incident made a hero of Captain Chesley Sullenberger, who safely piloted the plane into the Hudson River, but it also made Canada geese out to be small, feathered suicide bombers.

The truth is, Canada geese populations in the United States have skyrocketed since 1960. Today, America is home to more than 4 million of the birds. Why the sudden spike in numbers? The geese thrive on trash. Landfills and estuaries provide them with so much food they can live in one place year-round, instead of migrating. And because there's lot of garbage surrounding New York's airports, many geese call the Big Apple home. During the past two years, there have been more than 200 instances of Canada geese flocks colliding with airplanes that were landing or taking off near JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark.

Following the "Miracle on the Hudson", state and federal authorities have worked to deter the birds from nearby flight paths. They even enlisted the help of wildlife biologists, who've tried all sorts of tricks. They've cut the grass near the runways to undesirable lengths and played goose distress calls over the airport loudspeakers. More aggressively, they've trapped geese by the hundreds and euthanized them. So far, the geese have not counterattacked. Not yet.

(Image credit: Flickr user Alanna@VanIsle)


When a Colorado farmer named Lloyd Olsen botched the decapitation of his rooster in 1945, he didn't realize he'd given birth to a legend. For the next 18 months, Mike the Headless Chicken ran around with his head cut off. Operating with only one ear and most of his brain stem, Mike made the best of the situation. Before long, he was earning his owner thousands of dollars a month touring as a sideshow. The rooster's only real handicap was that he didn't have a mouth, so he had to be fed through an eyedropper directly into his neck. Sadly, while being fed one night, Mike choked to death. His legacy lives on, however. In his hometown of Fruita, Colorado, "Mike's Festival" is held every third weekend in May. Events in his honor include the "Run Like a Chicken with Your Head Cut Off" 5K and a "Pin the Head on the Chicken" contest.

(Image Source: Mike the Headless Chicken)


In 2006, professional badminton players noticed something strange. Their shuttlecocks, which routinely whiz around the courts at speeds of 150 mph, weren't moving so fast. The phenomenon was especially strange because the process of making a shuttlecock is highly controlled. Each feather in a premium shuttlecock is hand-selected from the left wing of a goose, and each goose can supply only two quality feathers, at most!

So what caused the change? The avian flu. When geese began transmitting the disease, Chinese manufacturers switched to using duck feathers. Luckily, our fine feathered friends have been on the mend, returning smiles to the faces of badminton players everywhere.


The above article by David Goldenberg is reprinted with permission from the Scatterbrained section of the November-December 2010 issue of mental_floss magazine.

Be sure to visit mental_floss' entertaining website and blog for more fun stuff!

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Only four million? Seems low.
I think here in Canada they can be hunted, but apparently aren't very edible. They need to engineer a tastier version.
A local park re-allowed dogs in order to scare them off.
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We have so many "Canada" geese because they're protected. In many places it's not even legal to chase them away. In some places people are actually hired to play with their dogs to act as a 'natural' goose deterrent.
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That photo of Mike the Headless chicken is interesting. He's walking around without his freaking head, and his buddy doesn't seem to notice anything unusual.
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