Berthold teaches Alan the best way to catch a stork
autumn, about half a million white storks embark on an epic
journey. Leaving from all over Europe, most fly east over
half a dozen countries, then down across the Middle East to
their wintering grounds in Africa. But stork numbers are down
by half in the last 50 years. German ornithologist Peter Berthold
is trying to figure out why.
In "Flight Into the Unknown," Alan Alda helps Berthold
capture some of the migrating storks so they can be fitted
with satellite transmitters and tracked on their journey.
So far, Berthhold has obtained detailed records about the
migrations of 90 individual birds.
fly all day, he's found, soaring on the sun-generated warm
air currents that rise off the land. But no such currents
rise off of the Gulf of Suez, the only large body of water
the storks must cross on their route. So the birds must wait
until the wind is favorable. That's why thousands stop at
the Egyptian coastal town of Sharm el Sheik.
white storks travel up to 10 hours each day, covering
the town, volunteers bring exhausted, dehydrated birds in
from the desert to a stork rescue center. After a good meal
and often some medical treatment, volunteers like Americans
Jim and Susan Dinsmore, and Adli Mestikawy, a local hotel
owner, send the birds back on their way. No one's sure why
the birds are arriving in the tourist town in such bad shape,
and Berthold, for one, is not convinced that feeding is the
solution to the problem. He says it's the loss of summer feeding
grounds in Europe that's more to blame for the storks' decline,
and it's natural for the birds not to feed during migration,
to keep their body weight low. That doesn't stop the rescue
center, though, which now hands out 800 pounds a day of chicken
carcasses to the hungry storks.