Cover image for The homing instinct : meaning & mystery in animal migration
The homing instinct : meaning & mystery in animal migration
Heinrich, Bernd, 1940-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.
Physical Description:
xv, 352 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Acclaimed scientist and author Bernd Heinrich has returned every year since boyhood to a beloved patch of western Maine woods. What is the biology in humans of this deep in the bones pull toward a particular place, and how is it related to animal homing? Heinrich explores the fascinating science chipping away at the mysteries of animal migration: how geese imprint true visual landscape memory; how scent trails are used by many creatures, from fish to insects to amphibians, to pinpoint their home if they are displaced from it; and how the tiniest of songbirds are equipped for solar and magnetic orienteering over vast distances. Most movingly, Heinrich chronicles the spring return of a pair of sandhill cranes to their home pond in the Alaska tundra. With his trademark "marvelous, mind altering" prose (Los Angeles Times), he portrays the unmistakable signs of deep psychological emotion in the newly arrived birds, and reminds us that to discount our own emotions toward home is to ignore biology itself.
Homing. Cranes coming home ; Beelining ; Getting to a good place ; By the sun, stars, and magnetic compass ; Smelling their way home ; Picking the spot -- Home-making and maintaining. Architectures of home ; Home-making in Suriname ; Home crashers ; Charlotte II : a home within a home ; The communal home -- Homing implications. The in and out of boundaries ; Of trees, rocks, a bear, and a home ; On home ground ; Fire, hearth, and home ; Homing to the herd.
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QL754 .H45 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
QL754 .H45 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
QL754 .H45 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Acclaimed scientist and author Bernd Heinrich has returned every year since boyhood to a beloved patch of western Maine woods. What is the biology in humans of this deep-in-the-bones pull toward a particular place, and how is it related to animal homing?

Heinrich explores the fascinating science chipping away at the mysteries of animal migration: how geese imprint true visual landscape memory; how scent trails are used by many creatures, from fish to insects to amphibians, to pinpoint their home if they are displaced from it; and how the tiniest of songbirds are equipped for solar and magnetic orienteering over vast distances. Most movingly, Heinrich chronicles the spring return of a pair of sandhill cranes to their home pond in theAlaska tundra. With his trademark "marvelous, mind-altering" prose ( Los Angeles Times ), he portrays the unmistakable signs of deep psychological emotion in the newly arrived birds--and reminds us that to discount our own emotions toward home is to ignore biology itself.

Author Notes

BERND HEINRICH is an acclaimed scientist and the author of numerous books, including the best-selling Winter World, Mind of the Raven, Why We Run, The Homing Instinct, and One Wild Bird at a Time. Among Heinrich's many honors is the 2013 PEN New England Award in nonfiction for Life Everlasting. He resides in Maine.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Retired biologist Heinrich (Life Everlasting) combines a scientific examination of animal migration with elements of journalism and memoir to produce a thoroughly engaging book. To open, he discusses the amazing ability of a diverse array of animals to migrate long distances and to return to their home breeding grounds: sandhill cranes annually to a small pond in Alaska after overwintering in Mexico, albatrosses to a speck of land in the middle of the ocean to breed after being away for years at a stretch, or salmon to their natal stream. Heinrich comfortably recognizes that there is a great deal that scientists have yet to discover and poses intriguing unanswered questions. The highlight of Heinrich's second section is his recounting of an expedition he made to a pristine rainforest in the mountains of Suriname. In the final section he focuses on himself and his home in Maine, writing beautifully of living and hunting on his land as well as the myriad ways he has come to know the fauna and flora with which he shares his property. Although the books elements do not fit seamlessly, the work is strong enough to yield a holistic picture of various aspects of this important natural phenomenon. Agent: Sandra Dijkstra, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Choice Review

Naturalist, scientist, and nature writer Heinrich (Life Everlasting, CH, Feb'13, 50-3261; The Nesting Season, CH, Nov'10, 48-1469) explores the mysterious ways of animal navigation, migration, and home building and manages to tie in human conceptions of home and home making as well. Heinrich's lyrical prose skillfully weaves together personal and scientific observations, providing lucid explanations of complex science in terms that general readers can appreciate. Species treated range from the less well-known to the familiar (e.g., pigeons, honeybees). For example, the author delves into the numerous complexities of honeybee behavior, including their system for communicating food locations to hive mates, the intricacies of honeycomb construction, and their system for collective decision making when choosing locations of new hives. A chapter on an orb-weaving spider with which Heinrich shared his rural cabin illustrates the lessons that can be learned from detailed observations of a single organism. The Homing Instinct conveys the sense of joy and purpose that Heinrich finds in these vital activities, and helps readers appreciate not only the abilities of the animals, but the dedication of the scientists who have painstakingly teased out the mechanisms behind these extraordinary feats. --Suzanne C. Baker, James Madison University

Booklist Review

Naturalist Heinrich (Life Everlasting, 2012) returns with another richly crafted title that immerses readers in the wild world. In this outing he focuses on the mysteries of migration and the homing instinct while also delving into the personal story of his own Maine home. From such expected migrators as birds and butterflies to moths, eels, and grasshoppers, Heinrich's elegant passages (with line drawings) wander in and out of discussions on long travels, dwelling construction (bees are primary players), and home crashers, which include bed bugs and other pests. His trademark wit and self-deprecating humor are evident throughout, especially in a delightful chapter highlighting the intricate web building and preservation of a spider he rightfully dubs Charlotte. The many small illustrations of easily overlooked creatures combine to bring a story of life into focus. Whether in Alaska for the annual return of a pair of sandhill cranes or researching the lives of his land's previous owners, Heinrich doesn't lose sight of his goal to understand why creatures great and small all long for a return to home.--Mondor, Colleen Copyright 2014 Booklist

Library Journal Review

Readers of this, or any of Heinrich's previous books (Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death), will recognize his habits of mind-observing, questioning, measuring, wondering, drawing, problem solving-the supply of applicable gerunds nearly runs out. Here the author explores homing and home building, working the theme across the animal spectrum (with a side trip into the vegetal world of chestnut trees). Heinrich (emeritus, biology, Univ. of -Vermont) divides his latest work into three broad sections: the first, perhaps most familiar to readers, covers homing, where the wonders of some migratory animals' navigational prowess is examined; the second investigates the physical structures in which some beasts dwell; and, in a richly allusive third part, where -Heinrich's own return home frames the narrative, he considers how all of this relates to human biology and culture. Much of the author's inquiry occurs locally, in the Maine woods, but the study of some extraordinary homemakers-frogs, sociable weaver birds, sandhill cranes-takes him to far-flung -Suriname, the Kalahari, and Alaska. VERDICT Natural history fans will love this book. Its appeal is multilayered, with many fascinating instances of Heinrich's fabled fieldwork and plenty of hard science. Add to that those moments where the author stands agape at what he observes-say, a spider's web-and the writing nearly attains the lyric poignancy of poetry. [See Prepub Alert, 11/1/13.]-Robert Eagan, Windsor P.L., Ont. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Introduction Our passionate preoccupation with the sky, the stars, and a God somewhere in outer space is a homing impulse. We are drawn to where we came from. --Eric Hoffer With all things and in all things, we are relatives. --Native American (Sioux) proverb I leaned on the ship's railing at the stern, a ten-year-old boy with virtually no notion of where my family might be going. I heard the deep roar of the engines, the whine of the wind, and the rush of the churning water. I felt adrift, as though carried along like a leaf in a storm, feeling the rocking, the spray, and the endlessness and power of the waves. I had no notion that we were among multitudes who had made hard decisions to court the great unknown, or any clear idea of why my family had left the only home I'd known in a forest in Germany. The only picture of what our new home might be was that we might find magical hummingbirds, and fierce native tribes armed with knives, bows and arrows, spears, and tomahawks. Security for me was the memory of where we had come from, specifically a little cabin in the woods and a cozy arbor of green leaves that enclosed me like a cocoon where I could see out but nobody could see in. It meant a feeling of kinship with the tiny brown wren with an upright stubby tail that sang so exuberantly near its snug feather-lined nest of green moss hidden under the upturned roots of a tree in a dark forest. I had in idle moments in my mind inhabited that nest. I found too the nest of an equally tiny long-tailed tit. This little bird's home was almost invisible to the eye because it was camouflaged with lichens that matched those on the thick fork of a tall alder tree where it was placed. The ocean all around was a spooky void. But then, after several days at sea, a huge white bird with a black back appeared as if out of nowhere, and it followed us closely. I saw its dark expressionless eyes scanning us. It was an albatross. It skimmed close over the waves and sometimes lifted above them, circled back, and then picked up momentum to again skim alongside our boat. It followed us for hours, maybe even days. The albatross was big and flew without beating its wings. Years later I wondered if, even in the featureless open ocean where so much looked the same every hour and every day, it may have known where it was all along. How do we find our home and recognize it when we find it? These questions were inchoate then, but given the examples of other animals, they put many ideas of home and homing in context. Later, as a graduate student, I read that pigeons could return home to their loft even when released in unfamiliar territory, and that some other birds could navigate continental distances using the sun and the stars. There were few answers to how they did it. But I read about researchers at Cornell University who attached magnets to the heads of pigeons and got them all confused. Donald Griffin, my scientific hero (who had discovered how bats can snatch silent moths out of the air in a totally dark room that had wires strung all over the place), was releasing seagulls over forest where they could never have been before and then tracking the birds' flight paths, by following them in an airplane. Most of his birds turned in circles before some of them flew straight, although why was not clear. Searching for a thesis problem to work on, I wrote to ask him if birds passing through clouds might keep in a straight line by listening to the calls flocks make while migrating. He replied in a long, thoughtful letter to let me know that this idea was too simplistic, and that one should not discount much more complicated mechanisms. That was excellent advice. I did not then have the means to solve any of these puzzles, but over the years I have kept in touch with the evolving field of animal navigation and its relevance to the need for a home. For other animals and for us, home is a "nest" where we live, where our young are reared. It is also the surrounding territory that supports us. "Homing" is migrating to and identifying a suitable area for living and reproducing and making it fit our needs, and the orienting and ability to return to our own good place if we are displaced from it. Homing is highly specific for each species, yet similarly relevant to most animals. And the exceptions are illuminated by the rule. The image of that albatross took on more meaning decades later, after I learned that the species mates for life and returns to the same pinpoint of its home, on some island shore where it was born, perhaps fifteen hundred kilometers distant. During the years when it grows to adulthood it may never be in sight of land. Seven to ten years after having left its home, it returns there to nest. It chooses to go there because of its bond. When a pair eventually have a chick in a nest of their own, each parent may travel over fifteen hundred kilometers of ocean to find a single big meal of squid, and after gathering up a full crop, it then flies home in a direct line; it knows where it is at all times. The broad topic of homing subsumes many biological disciplines. In order to show the connections among all animals and us, I have interpreted the traditional use of an animal's "territory," or "home territory," simply as "home." We think of "home" primarily as a dwelling, but in order to be inclusive with other animals, I here consider their dwellings to be their homes as well. My application of the same terms to different species is deliberate for the sake of scientific rigor and objectivity, to acknowledge the continuity between our lives and those of the rest of life. I realize that this smacks to some of anthropomorphism, a pejorative term that has been used for the purpose of separating us from the rest of life. The behaviors involved in homing include drives, emotions, and to some extent also reason. A home makes many animals' lives possible: home is life-giving and sought after with a passion to have and hold. We humans are not thinking much about "home" for animals when we confine them in cages devoid of almost everything they need except air, food, and water in a dispenser, or when we destroy the habitat that contains the essentials of home for many species. So I begin our exploration of home and its implications with the example of the common loons, Gavia immer , birds that may live for decades. The collaborative study by three biologists, Walter Piper, Jay Mager, and Charles Walcott, reveals how important home can be--enough for fights to the death. Loons spend winters in the open ocean, but a pair migrate from it and across the land back to their home, a specific northern pond or lake, to nest along its shore in the spring and raise one or two chicks out on the water. Starting almost immediately after ice-out and almost until freeze-up, camp owners along a lake routinely see "their" pair of loons year after year. It had long been assumed that the same individuals return each year and live as monogamous pairs on their strongly defended home territory. Huge surprises were in store after 1992, when techniques (using a boat, a strong light, and a net) were developed to capture loons and mark them with colored leg bands to identify individuals. In a long-term study of a population of loons in Wisconsin in a cluster of about a hundred lakes, it turned out that a pair of loons indeed returned year after year to their home. However, they were not always the same birds. As expected, given their longevity and reproductive potential, there were many "floaters," those still without a home, and some of them routinely replaced members of a pair. The floaters regularly visited different pairs at home at their respective lakes, and spirited vocal meetings resulted. These seldom led to fights, but they were not just friendly visits. These floaters were at first thought to invade others' home grounds in order to make "extra-pair parenting" attempts (which in males refers to extra-pair copulations and in females to egg dumping into the others' nests). However, DNA fingerprinting of the young loons from four dozen families produced not a single incident of extra-pair parenting. Instead, the visits by floaters were of an entirely different nature. They had an almost literally "deadly" purpose. The floaters were scouting--making assessments of both the worthiness of the others' real estate and the defensive capabilities of the resident males--to gauge the possibility for future takeovers. Excerpted from The Homing Instinct: Meaning and Mystery in Animal Migration by Bernd Heinrich All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
Introductionp. ix
I Homing
Cranes Coming Homep. 5
Beeliningp. 19
Getting to a Good Placep. 37
By the Sun, Stars, and Magnetic Compassp. 63
Smelling Their Way Homep. 95
Picking the Spotp. 109
II Home-Making and Maintaining
Architectures of Homep. 125
Home-making in Surinamep. 151
Home Crashersp. 167
Charlotte II: A Home Within a Homep. 181
The Communal Homep. 201
III Homing Implications
The In and Out of Boundariesp. 221
Of Trees, Rocks, a Bear, and a Homep. 235
On Home Groundp. 249
Fire, Hearth, and Homep. 271
Homing to the Herdp. 285
Epiloguep. 305
Acknowledgmentsp. 317
Further Readingp. 319
Indexp. 344