Monday 25 September 2023

Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrich


Ravens nest on Edinburgh's Arthur's Seat, where the keen (and lucky) observer can watch these amazing birds. In their Edinburgh location, they are elusive, there's no guarantee that they will appear or stick around if you're walking around their area.

So Mind of the Raven really appealed to me as a chance to get up close and personal with these incredibly intelligent corvids.

Bernd Heinrich is an experimental biologist, and this book is built on the foundation of his field observations and experiments with groups of Ravens in a number of sites in the USA. There are some fascinating explorations of the birds' behaviour here:

'I've seen ravens loitering for hours in the updrafts of the hills and mountains of western Maine. Again and again they ride the air elevators and dive down in pairs or small groups. Once..... I was in a spruce tree watching groups of five to twenty birds return to a roost. Most were flying methodically. Suddenly one, who was coming back alone at high altitude, closed both wings to its sidesand bolted straight down. In rapid succession, it made three 360 degree spins around its axis. Then it extended its wings, banked slowly and descended in a graceful arc to land in the top of a pine near the roost where others were already settling in for the night. Why the extra flourishes? Do the birds act out something they visualise in the brain, which the other birds don't? Or do their odd behaviours just 'happen' without their conscious knowledge?'

This is the best aspect of the book, detailed observations, combined with scientific curiosity. However, often the book feels bogged down in the specific details of the fieldwork, which does at times become repetitive.  

Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrich published (1999) by Harper Collins.


You can read my earlier review of two books about the famous ravens of the Tower of London here.

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