It all started off with a college prank.
Back in 1979, students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison decided to prank their dean. We’re guessing they had seen Animal House with John Belushi a few too many times.
It was a relatively innocent prank concocted and executed by a group of students known as the Pail & Shovel Party, who already had a reputation for their campus antics involving $10,000 toga parties and buying toys for students waiting to register for classes. Then there was that time they stuck a Statue of Liberty replica in a lake, but we digress.
To welcome back students in 1979, they decided to go as tacky as possible and decorate a lawn near the dean’s residence with pink plastic flamingos. One thousand and eight of them, to be exact.
It wasn’t until years later, when a newspaper columnist named Doug Moe wanted to commemorate the incident, that the idea of having an official bird came about. He lobbied to make it happen, despite the plastic flamingo not being an actual animal. In his defense, he said the city already had 5 “official” songs, so the bar seemed pretty low for making things official in the city. The move would be just another way for Madison to show it had a sense of humor about itself.
The city council agreed. Councilwoman Marsha Rummel, who voted in favor of the motion to adopt the plastic flamingo as the city’s official bird, said: “If you don’t have a little fun, [life]’s not worth living.” Fourteen other council members agreed, and only 4 opposed the motion.
Of course, not every city has an official bird.
According to Mental Floss,
“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.”