RAVENS IN WINTER: A Zoological Detective Story by Bernd Heinrich

RAVENS IN WINTER: A Zoological Detective Story

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Ravens are the brains of the bird world, celebrated in myths, legends, and hunters' lore. Heinrich, no mean brain in the zoology world (One Man's Owl; Bumblebee Economics, etc.), has taken on the task of interpreting raven behavior through field studies in western Maine during wintertime. The season is critical because it is Heinrich's initial conjecture, based on observation, that during the season of scarce food resources ravens share food bonanzas in the form of carcasses of deer and other large mammals, Is this kin selection? A means of lowering risk of attack by coyotes by herding together? None of the above? To find out, Heinrich has been holing up in the deep woods for the past four years, spending weekends and vacations hefting meat up steep hills to lay out as bait near flimsy campsites and blinds. Then, up before dawn to beat the ravens to the meat piles, he hides and watches. This book is the record of a work-in-progress, revealing how speculations lead to hypotheses that lead to experiments, revised hypotheses, and so on. Great leaps forward come when Heinrich and co-workers are able to study individual birds they have banded and when a few ravens are raised at Heinrich's home in Vermont; even more can be expected from a super ""natural"" aviary that has been built in the woods. But already Heinrich has evidence that ravens do share food. He concludes that this happens when a territorial mated pair allow ""vagrant"" juveniles to share the feast--in this way insuring that at leaner times they, too, can invade other territories with a group. The groupings may also be occasions for mate selection by demonstrating natural leaders. The complexities of the calls, the courting songs and dances, the games, chases, dominance/submission behavior, the temporary and permanent roosts, all add up to a rich repertoire of behavior that Heinrich sees in an adaptive light. As he muses over his summary paper published in a professional journal, Heinrich relives the footslogging in blizzards, the tree-shimmying climbs; hears again the onomatopoeia of squirrels chirring, woodpeckers drumming, ravens quorking--and would not miss it for the world. It is that personal adventure, along with the intellectual process of discovery, that Heinrich captures here in a volume that celebrates raven and human reason.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Summit/Simon & Schuster