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Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich

Ravens in Winter (1989)

by Bernd Heinrich

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    Bumblebee Economics by Bernd Heinrich (chrisharpe)
    chrisharpe: Two great works of ecology and natural history by the same author.

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I found this fascinating. But most of you probably wouldn't. Watching Heinrich spend long weekends in the woods of Maine in below-freezing temps, counting birds and analyzing their calls, is pretty dry. Even when he gets a chance to band (wing mark) some, he doesn't name them, as Fossey and Goodall did their apes. The writing is graceful, the science accessible, but overall it's not a lively account at all.

He's an experienced naturalist, and *very* careful to collect meaningful data without prejudice. He tells us a little about what background reading he's done, which anecdotes from trappers & other folks that he's collected... and then dismisses just about all that information as biased, saying that ravens are presumed intelligent, and so observers have explained the birds' behavior with that assumption in mind. Heinrich doesn't deny that they're probably intelligent, but he focuses on data, on watching the birds as if he knows nothing about them. (Except that they eat scavenged meat and take three years to sexually mature... foreknowledge that is crucial to his experiments.)

So, most of the cute stories are snippets about how 'fun' he finds this project. Personally, I'm glad he was the one who hauled hundreds of pound of bait meat into the woods every weekend, slept in an unheated shack, and woke before dawn to climb a spruce, holding still & quiet during blizzards... I sure wouldn't want to.

He did reveal a tidbit from his library research: 'Ravenstone' is an old English term for a place of execution. And he talks a bit about the ravens in the Tower of London. There are a few sketches, There are no photos.

I am looking forward to reading [b:Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds|254704|Mind of the Raven Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds|Bernd Heinrich|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1173183652s/254704.jpg|246837] and perhaps even the author's books on bumblebees. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
A wonderful tale of outdoor adventure and investigation. ( )
  hurricanehob | Nov 5, 2014 |
It's a little dry but still worth reading. He's a scientist, not a novelist and this is really an extended research paper and reads like one at times (most of the time). I'd recommend it to those interested in nature research and/or Corvids. ( )
  8heist | Jan 21, 2010 |
Very interesting observations on the feeding behaviours of ravens in winter (which is different than in times of abundant food). A certain amount of repetition and a writing style that is acceptable but not brilliant are all that keep the book in the 3 star range. Recommended. ( )
  thesmellofbooks | Mar 10, 2009 |
Bernd Heinrich's first book-length investigation into raven behavior, Ravens in Winter (1989) offers an in-depth look not only at a specific scientific question, but also at the process by which wildlife biologists go about answering such questions. Heinrich's curiosity is piqued when he witnesses ravens apparently calling in other, unrelated crowds to feed with them on carcasses. Since this behavior seems to run contrary to 'common sense' (which would mean keeping the food to oneself) and to known behavior among other corvids (jays and crows are not known to recruit), Heinrich sought to find out what he was seeing and why it was happening.

More than five years in the field and countless experiments later, Heinrich thinks he has an answer, the evidence and results for which are laid out in Ravens in Winter. Heinrich also published his findings in a scientific journal, but we lay readers should thank him for sharing them with us in book form (I, for one, am not a casual reader of Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology). By expanding his process, observations and results into a narrative, Heinrich offers a fascinating window into the scientific process, while telling a good story at the same time.

Heinrich's approach to scientific research is somewhat unconventional and extremely personal. He estimates that he hauled several tons of meat into the Maine woods to provide bait for the ravens, for example, and his accounts of nearly freezing to death in the tops of spruce trees where he sat morning after morning waiting for the ravens to come so that he could document the direction they flew in from were painful to read. But he persevered, and after several years had developed a workable model which answered his original question.

If you've ever watched some jays, or a group of crows, you know how fascinatingly bizarre corvid behavior can be. Ravens in Winter is the story of what one very ambitious and interested biologist did to satisfy his curiosity about one aspect of the lives of these intriguing birds.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2008/10/book-review-ravens-in-winter.html ( )
2 vote JBD1 | Oct 12, 2008 |
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To all the raven Mainiacs who answered the call
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As an academic field biologist, I have the duty of finding out about our natural world.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679732365, Paperback)

Ravens are among the most elusive and yet (or, consequently) fascinating animals of North American I have ever encountered. Heinrich--an incredibly patient and cold-hardy fellow, not to mention, a heck of a writer--studied ravens in the dead of winter in Maine, and made some remarkable discoveries of how these normally solitary birds would actually engage in food sharing. Few of the many works on behavioral ecology I have read so compellingly capture the tedium of field work, the inscrutability of subject animals, and the satisfaction of discovery that provides even greater warmth than a blazing wood fire in the middle of a northern winter. Highly Recommended.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:46 -0400)

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