Impaled stork survives two centuries

Two hundred years ago today, on May 21, 1822, a stork was shot (with a gun) by Christian Ludwig Reichsgraf von Bothmer at his estate in Mecklenburg, Germany. The dead bird was and still is remarkable — the stork had been flying despite the handicap of an eight-foot-long African arrow that pierced its neck lengthwise from back to front. The arrow jutted out just below the bird’s head, apparently without touching vital body parts.

Bird-and-arrow were taxidermized, and donated to the zoological collection of the University of Rostock, where ‘der Pfeilstorch’ (arrow-stork) is still preserved, gaining fame and attracting as many as 20.000 visitors in recent (non-covid) years.

Because of the corona safety measures — which only recently were lifted in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern — a grand bicentennial celebration could not be organized. So you can have your own event, great or small, to commemorate the arrow-stork that bravely returned to Germany together with its fateful, half-internalized African arrow.

The arrow-stork forced people to realize, just two centuries ago, that the European white stork (Ciconia cicona) migrates from Europe to Africa and back. The general — erroneous — belief in Europe had been that during winter, storks ‘hibernate in the mud’ or transform into some other kind of creature.

This stork was shot with an arrow. Then it was shot with a gun. Now you can shoot it with a camera.

To see this historic specimen, visit the Zoological Institute, Universitätsplatz 2, Rostock, Germany. Open on weekdays 10am – 4pm, entrance free.

(And for further background on this whole story, see Kees Moeliker’s recent essay in NRC.)