How a Stork Solved a Scientific Mystery

One Harvard vice president even thought they went to the moon.

For millennia, Europeans had no idea where birds went during the winter months. Aristotle believed that one bird species simply converted into another, such that the redstarts he observed hopping around in Greece in the summer evolved into the robins he saw hopping around in the winter. Other theories, at least to modern ears, sound even more absurd: birds hibernated deep in the muck or at the bottom of the ocean; one Harvard vice president even believed they flew to the moon.

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But, as Atlas Obscura’s Dylan Thuras shows in the video below, one especially tenacious stork debunked all those wild hypotheses. A hunter near Mecklenburg, Germany, shot down a stork in 1822 with an odd carry-on: an 80-cm long Central African spear made of black wood embedded in the bird’s neck. The discovery of the spear’s African origins provided the first definite evidence of long-distance bird migration.

The bird was taxidermied with its spear intact and is now on display at the University of Rostock’s Zoological Collection in Germany. He (or she?) isn’t alone; the creature inspired the name pfeilstorch, which refers to storks found with African spears embedded in their bodies. According to the Washington Post, at least 25 such storks have been discovered to date, and other species have survived similar impalement.

Youtube: Atlas Obscura

See the video above for more information on the strange occurrence of arrow storks.