A short thread on the batshit theories Europeans had on where birds went in the winter a few centuries ago, and the even stupider way they found out the truth.

(Sources here: ifls.online/3nRDtrn)
For centuries, people in Europe didn't really know where birds went during the winter. It's not their fault, they had a lot on that kept them from investigating. It's hard to focus on "where did birb go?" when you're working on your main task of dying of the plague.
One theory, which went all the way back to Aristotle and ancient Greece, was that birds hibernated during the winter and that summer redstarts turned themselves into winter robins for the colder months, while garden warblers turn into blackcap warblers.
As outlandish as these theories were, it was somehow better than other theories, such as that of 17th-century English scientist Charles Morton, who believed that they flew to the Moon for winter, flying for 60 days at 201 kilometers per hour (125 miles per hour).
To be fair to him, why bother going to the trouble of finding out things through empiricism in a century where you can merely say "whither should these creatures go, unless it were to the Moon?" and still retain your position as a respected man of science.
Weirder still was the notion – referenced in Homer's Iliad and later discussed as established fact by Pliny the Elder – that every year, cranes would fly south to continue their ongoing war with "pygmies", after a nice long break from the violence.
Pliny wrote that the "pygmies" would ride out on sheep to attack the cranes and eat their eggs, in order to keep the population down, while the cranes would attack them back in their vicious war (note: don't assume a war on birds is a war humanity can win).
This is all to say that Europe was flailing pretty badly in regards to the mystery of where birds go when they leave during the colder months.

But then an explanation fell from the sky. With a massive spear right through its neck.
In 1822, near the German village of Klütz, a white stork was spotted, hanging out with a 76-centimeter-long (30 inches) explanation going right through its neck in the shape of a spear.
The spear was found to be made of African wood, confirming that the stork had managed to fly 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) to Africa for the winter before making the immense return journey to Germany, where it was promptly killed and stuffed.
Further storks with spears through them have been found, which the Germans have christened Pfeilstorch or "arrow stork".
Though it's probably of little consolation to a bird that was severely injured then made an epic journey only to be executed upon arrival, it proved a minor theory of the time about migration, putting to bed the baffling ideas that they morphed into other birds for the new season
The above story isn't in my new book, but similar fun / funny stories are. Why not get a copy for someone for Xmas.

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More from @JimMFelton

24 Nov
President James A. Garfield spent his final few months being fed beef via his anus

(short thread, sources here: ifls.online/3eO2NZJ)
During Charles Guiteau's trial for the murder of President James A. Garfield he said “I admit to shooting the president. It was the doctors who murdered him.”

Though I'm reluctant to say "this murderer has a point" he may be right, given the deadly surgeries and rectal feeding.
On July 2, 1881, Garfield was shot as he waited for a train to take him for his summer vacation, less than 4 months into his presidency. His assassin grazed him on the shoulder with one bullet, but the 2nd went through his first lumbar vertebra and lodged firmly in his abdomen.
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23 Nov
I’ve hidden a signed copy on the Bakerloo line if anybody fancies it.

Had to restrain myself from saying “not a bomb” as I left it, obviously. Image
Ok, as has been noted, I am shit at hiding things
I’ve hidden another copy at Paddington (arm not included) Image
Read 4 tweets
22 Nov
In 1767 John Hunter took the yellowish penile discharge of a man he believed to have gonorrhea and rubbed it into a wound he'd created in his own penis.

He believed that gonorrhea and syphilis were two forms of the same disease. He was wrong.

[Very short thread]
At the time, both diseases were known as "the pox", despite different and distinct symptoms. Some were beginning to believe – correctly – that the two forms of pox were actually different diseases.
Hunter, however, thought that the difference in symptoms was a result of differences in the tissues infected. What's more, he was so confident he was willing to bet his own penis that he was correct.
Read 13 tweets

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