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Meaning and Mystery in Animal Migration

by Bernd Heinrich

Pub Date: April 8th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-547-19848-4
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A noted naturalist explores the centrality of home in the lives of humans and other animals.

“Not just any place will do,” writes Heinrich (Emeritus, Biology/Univ. of Vermont; Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death, 2012, etc.), winner of the 2013 PEN New England Award for Nonfiction. “For other animals and us, home is a ‘nest’ where we live, where our young are reared.” In this delightful, wide-ranging meditation on the pull of home, the author examines the homing behaviors of species from songbirds to caterpillars to a pair of sandhill cranes, which make an annual 5,000-kilometer journey from Texas or Mexico to a precise place—their home pond—in Alaska. Like us, birds use the sun as a compass for homing. Other species use scent trails or water or air currents as travel guides. Drawing on his own observations and research, as well as the work of such specialists as zoologist Archie Carr (turtle homing) and ornithologist Gustav Kramer, Heinrich tells the homing stories of innumerable species and describes similarities to the behaviors of humans—innate homebodies who need only familiar landmarks to find their ways home. There are many examples of home building: Termites recycle feces to create tiny cities. Honeybees build honeycombs. Woodpeckers excavate out of solid wood. All choose particular places that protect against weather and predators. The author describes the year in which a spider became his housemate and the array of deer mice, phoebes, hornets, ants, flickers and other creatures that made themselves comfortable in his cabin in the woods. From ancient campfires to the apple orchards planted by Europeans declaring their intention to settle in places in the American West, Heinrich examines all aspects of life associated with home.

A special treat for readers of natural history.