How a Stork Solved a Scientific Mystery


For millennia, Europeans didn't really understand where birds went in the winter. Aristotle thought that one bird species just transformed itself into another—so that the redstarts he saw in Greece in the summer somehow changed into the robins he saw hopping around in the winter. Other explanations sound even more ludicrous, at least to modern ears—birds hibernated deep in the mud, or at the bottom of the ocean; one Harvard vice president even thought they went to the moon.

But as Dylan Thuras of Atlas Obscura explains in the video above, one particularly tough stork cleared up all those spurious theories. In 1822, a hunter near Mecklenburg, Germany, shot down a stork with an unusual carry-on—an 80-cm long Central African spear made of black wood impaled in its neck. When scientists realized the spear was from Africa, it provided the first concrete evidence for long-distance bird migration.

The bird was taxidermied with spear intact, and today is on display at the Zoological Collection of the University of Rostock in Germany. Nor is he (or she?) alone—the creature gave rise to the term pfeilstorch, German for "arrow stork," which refers to storks found with African spears in their bodies. There have been at least 25 such storks found to date, and other animals have survived similar impalement, as the Washington Post notes.

For more on the surprising phenomenon of arrow storks, see the video above.

Header image credit: Michelle Enemark, Atlas Obscura via YouTube