Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Mind of the Raven
A black bird sits atop the power pole near the highway, and I can hear its persistent call: quork … quork … quork. It’s a raven. What is this call, who is it to, what does it mean?
I recently read Bernd Heinrich’s Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds, a superb read with one style of writing I enjoy a great deal, but rarely encounter. Heinrich’s book provides detailed encounters of specific animals, and while also including assumptions and conclusions, provides enough detail that I can come to my own assumptions and conclusions as well. Detailed nature study (as in, “I saw this once, and these were the circumstances”) of individual animals, as well as for the population/species as a whole, make for fascinating reading, and provide fodder for debate and discussion about context.
David Quammen’s review in the New York Times book review took issue with the things I love about the book, describing it as “an amiable, disorderly book that for all its charm often seems too directly derived from field notes and daily journal entries of the working scientist. Some of the minute-by-minute detail is engaging, some presents meaningful data and some is just noise.”
I can’t help it; I want the noise too, just to put everything in perspective.
Heinrich explains that his quest is to find out what ravens do, “which to me is more important than deciding how to label it.”
In the preface to the book, Heinrich drew me in with his list of reported raven behaviors he found both intelligent and strange: “ravens hanging by their feet, sliding in snow, snow-bathing, aerial bathing, flying upside down, doing barrel-rolls, social flying, and using objects to displace gulls from nests, using rocks in nest defense.”
Other reported behavior included carrying food in the foot rather than the bill, foot-paddling, rolling on the ground to avoid a peregrine falcon, catching doves in midair (Wow!) and attacking reindeer.
While I did not enjoy Heinrich’s Raven in Winter, Mind of the Raven is a book that will remain on my bookshelf.