The pfeilstorch of Mecklenburg, or how we came to know that birds migrate

Joshua Foer is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Joshua is a freelance science journalist and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Dylan Thuras.


The arrow-stork of Mecklenburg might be my favorite object in the Atlas Obscura:

Until the 19th century, the sudden annual disappearance of white
storks each fall had been a profound mystery to European bird-watchers.
Aristotle thought the storks went into hibernation with the other
disappearing avian species, perhaps at the bottom of the sea. According
to some fanciful accounts, "flocks of swallows were allegedly seen
congregating in marshes until their accumulated weight bent the reeds
into the water, submerging the birds, which apparently then settled
down for a long winter's nap." A 1703 pamphlet titled "An Essay toward
the Probable Solution of this Question: Whence come the Stork and the
Turtledove, the Crane, and the Swallow, when they Know and Observe the
Appointed Time of their Coming," argued that the disappearing birds
flew to the moon for the winter.

On May 21, 1822, a stunning piece of evidence came to light, which
suggested a less extra-terrestrial, if no less wondrous, solution to
the quandary of the disappearing birds. A white stork, shot on the
Bothmer Estate near Mecklenburg, was discovered with an 80-cm-long
Central African spear embedded in its neck. The stork had flown the
entire migratory journey from its equatorial wintering grounds in this
impaled state. The arrow-stork, or pfeilstorch, can now be found,
stuffed, in the Zoological Collection of the University of Rostock. It is not alone. Since 1822, some 25 separate cases of pfeilstorches have been recorded.

Zoological Collection of the University of Rostock