"A Stork’s Journey" Takes Flight

We honoured World Migratory Bird Day with a celebration of storks—from interactive activities to the world premiere of animated short film “A Stork’s Journey” produced by PositiveNegatives.

On a day that had all the trappings of a perfect day for flying— clear skies, a gentle breeze with the crisp bite of autumn — it felt particularly fitting to be celebrating the world’s most iconic long-distance flyer at the University of Konstanz Library, a modern space that was transformed into a science festival for World Migratory Bird Day.

Hosted by Martin Wikelski, from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior (MPIAB) and the Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behavior, the Konstanz event on October 12 was held in honour of a very special migratory bird: the white stork (Ciconia ciconia). The famous species, often seen roosting on roofs or circling above the skies of Konstanz, has been the focus of years of research by scientists Wikelski, Wolfgang Fieldler, Andrea Flack and others in the MPIAB. But on October 12, the celebrated bird stepped into a brighter spotlight as the star of an animated short film “A Stork’s Journey” created by comic creator Karrie Fransman and London-based firm PositiveNegatives.

The event welcomed guests into the university library, where a movie theatre of sorts had been prepared: colourful pillows were scattered on stairs, beanbags were nestled against walls and rows of chairs were laid out in front of a large screen. Here, “A Stork’s Journey” was shown for the first time to audiences anywhere in the world. The film brings to life the latest scientific breakthroughs about storks—including insight into their conservation needs—that have resulted from the global tracking work of MPIAB scientists.

To put the film into context, the audience heard from the film’s producer Dr Benjamin Dix, the Founder and Executive Director of PositiveNegatives—a London-based firm that produces comics, animations and podcasts about social and humanitarian issues, including migration. For “A Stork’s Journey” he partnered with acclaimed comic creator Karrie Fransman to create a graphic novel where cutting edge science was juxtaposed by hand-drawn illustrations and a simple narrative structure. Following the film, the scientists behind the stork research—Wolfgang Fiedler and Andrea Flack—presented a short tour of stork science, from the first stork who established the species as migrants 200 years ago to how the latest tools allow us to predict their migratory patterns in just 10 minutes of tracking.

The event finished in the library café with hands-on demonstrations of the technology behind the science. The café was converted to a science fair, where researchers from the Max Planck and University of Konstanz staffed booths where they could interpret different elements of their research through demonstrations. Stations included displays of the very tags used to track storks; 3D printed backpacks used for fine-scale tracking of very small birds; virtual reality headsets used for visualising and interpreting the highly complex data that is collected for storks; and a short movie made about the least known migrant, the Amur Falcon.

Brigitta Keeves, citizen science officer from the MPIAB and a chief organiser of the event said: “The University library was filled with 100 people interested in seeing Benjamin Dix talking about how he uses art as a medium for telling personal stories of people in conflict zones, and how he translated this technique to tell the story of storks. The science fair afterwards gave people a chance to talk to each scientist in more detail and it was really well received. We only had positive feedback, which sends a strong message how effective communication of science can really spark interest in the public about birds and the need to understand them.”