Blending scientific research with memoir, Heinrich (A Year in the Maine Woods) reveals the complex courtship and mating rituals of birds—along with the startling commonalities between certain human and avian domestic arrangements. Since research suggests that similar hormonal activity precedes both human and nonhuman mating, he also argues for applying so-called “anthropomorphic” labels like “love” to the behavior of birds. How else can one describe the tribulations that emperor penguins undergo to hatch their lone egg and raise their young? Heinrich also explores how some birds use plumage to attract mates while others use dance, elaborate nests, etc., to attract females, all an attempt to maximize the chances of passing on their genes; the ingenious strategies they use to protect their eggs; how the size of the clutch of eggs depends on whether the species is monogamous with the male helping feed the mother and the young (more babies) or not; and how males who leave the nest, or “cheat,” risk being cuckolded themselves. Skillfully narrated and illustrated by the author's own photographs and watercolor sketches, this book offers a range of intellectual and aesthetic pleasures. (May)
Heinrich fans and anyone interested in birds will find his latest book thoroughly rewarding; a volume to turn to again and again.
Perhaps the best natural history book of the year! Heinrich illuminates one of the hottest topics in contemporary biology in a very accessible way. A great read.
In his new book, The Nesting Season: Cuckoos, Cuckolds, and the Invention of Monogamy, Heinrich returns to his first love, and throws himself into an in-depth study of the mating lives of birds. The result is a fascinating exploration of the biological origins of bonding and emotional attachment.
The Nesting Season elegantly combines the author's prodigious knowledge of birds with observations gleaned from a life spent close to them, at his home in Vermont, where a pair of geese regularly build their nest on his property, and at a cabin in the woods of Maine, where he for years had a huge raven aviary ("a quarter of a mile around or something") for the study of intelligence in individual birds. The book also contains 52 pages of fascinating and informative color drawings and photographs--of birds, nests, eggs, and young--by the author.
Elizabeth Floyd Mair
Bernd Heinrich, a veteran U.S. ornithologist, knows better than to draw anthropomorphic parallels between birds and people, and in this beautifully produced and engagingly narrated book on the birds of New England and their nesting and mating habits he avoids any suggestion of simplistic moralizing. Nevertheless, the status of human monogamy is an almost secret subtext that runs through the whole work.
The Nesting Season is referenced throughout, and 21 pages of endnotes provide direction to the literature Heinrich has consulted, making the book useful for layman and professional alike. It will join all of the other Heinrich books on my shelf, and I expect that I will return to this book from time to time, rereading it for the pure pleasure, as I do Bumblebee Economics or good novels. A popular book on natural history that also makes a scientific contribution while ranking as great literature is a rare bird indeed.
Ronald C. Ydenberg
The latest master work by one of my favorite nature writers. The Nesting Season digs deeply into the biology of nesting birds, from monogamy and polygyny to polyandry and cuckoldry. Replete with many color illustrations, Heinrich's latest book answers many of the questions I get this time of year.
Bernd Heinrich, a renowned naturalist and emeritus professor of biology at the University of Vermont, argues in his eye-opening new book, The Nesting Season: Cuckoos, Cuckolds, and the Invention of Monogamy, there's little reason to suspect birds don't fall in love just like we do. Love, Heinrich writes, is an adaptive feeling that many animals share, one that causes them to act irrationally for the sake of reproduction. He suggests monogamy among birds evolved in a similar way, as a sexual strategy for rearing young in demanding environments. Drawing heavily on personal observations and evolutionary biology, Heinrich... sheds light on a wide array of subjects, from the prevalence of lesbian albatross in Hawaii to the peculiar dynamics of bird sex. And though he admits birds may love one another, we shouldn't necessarily look to them for ideal "family values." Australian malleefowl, he writes, bury their children in mounds of rotting vegetation and leave them for dead.
The book is illustrated with Heinrich's own drawings and photographs, with which he further demonstrates his prowess as a natural historian. The pictures alone make the book well worth the purchase price.
A ramble through the home life of birds during the breeding season: a mixture of Heinrich's thoughts and experiences and the scientific literature...The stories he tells are charming and intriguing, and his intimate connection with the birds in the woods and bogs surrounding his home brings it all to life. The text is further enlivened by a large number of superb colour photographs, mainly of nests, eggs and chicks, and by some of Heinrich's own watercolours.
A flight through the beauty and brutality of bird life. From songs and displays, plumage, sex roles and mating rituals to nest parasitism, infanticide and predation.
In The Nesting Season, Heinrich takes an extended, worldwide look at birds' various reproductive strategies. Birds employ such a variety of nesting behaviors, including polygamy (both polyandry and polygyny), single parenting, multiple broods, brood parasitism (laying eggs in nests of other species), and more, that seeing parallels with human behavior and that of other primates may seem unwarranted. However, Heinrich makes a good case for this in some situations. His belief that anthropomorphism has been over-demonized flies in the face of traditional science and is sure to be controversial. His 20 paintings and 50 excellent photographs enhance this fine, highly referenced, thoughtful book.
H. T. Armistead