THE HOMING INSTINCT: MEANING & MYSTERY IN ANIMAL MIGRATION (352 pp., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)
From the book jacket: "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.
REVIEWS (4.5 of 5 stars on Amazon): "Thoughtful science and poetic writing."—David Keymer
"A wonderfully written and fascinating book, as I find all writings of this amazing naturalist are. Highly recommended."—Matthew Karns
"Excellent read! I could hardly put it down. This author can make complex science subjects easy to understand. Especially liked the chapter on how birds navigate."–Carolyn Retey
BERND HEINRICH WRITES ABOUT THE HOMING INSTINCT:
This book was in part instigated when I moved to live permanently in Maine, in my cabin in the woods which I had known since the age of 11 and where I become imprinted on the Maine woods. I had later there conducted the field studies of bumblebees and ravens. It was not totally inadvertent that I wanted to be back. Many birds live where they imprint when they are young as well. They leave when they have to, but come back when they can. I had done the same. I was like the salmon coming back to their home stream where they were born, to return to the home area where I bonded as a boy and grew up. I felt nostalgia for my home, and wondered what it was, and why, and how, birds also return to their home turf each spring.
As a beginning Ph.D. student at UCLA searching for a thesis problem I had at first chosen a molecular one on DNA that may have been theoretically worthy, but the methods of solving it were not yet worked out. I didn’t know it and nobody told me. I thought of another, on bird migration, and wrote to Donald Griffin, a then authority on the topic. I had a simple idea, but he told me the subject was likely much more complicated, so I dropped the idea before even trying. Still, I was enthralled by all the elegant work that had been done on bird migration. It was simply magical for me what some people had found out, that practically did not exist until they in effect made it through their hard work and insights. What they had done had increased my sense of beauty of birds. I passed the marvel on to students in my course in Ecological Physiology. It had first been focused on insects, and had thus included the famous and still-ongoing saga of the monarch butterfly, and that of the migratory grasshoppers (locust) , the time-compensated sun compass of bees. In later years it included the fabulous stories of the salmon, eels, insects navigating by the moon, the Sun compensated with an internal clock, and birds navigating also by their recognition of constellations of the stars, as well as the Sun with the clock mechanism, and Earth's magnetic fields.
I kept abreast of this huge field of homing behavior for my teaching, and saw come into fruition the amazing satellite communication and GPS technology and its impact on the field of animal navigation. I was astounded to learn of data proving ultra-distance endurance and navigation of shorebirds, of birds that travel in non-stop flight from the Arctic in late summer, to the spring in the Southern hemisphere, in one week. What intense urges may drive these animals to accomplish such heroic feats, that to them are ordinary?
Unlike most of my books, this one contains none of my work. It is about the amazing work of others, and how they managed to unveil the secrets of the most amazing animals on the planet that had through all of the millions of our history as a species been unknown. It also includes reference of to some animals that went extinct, in part (and this is my hypothesis) that they didn’t have a home, but referenced to each other instead, to thereby lose contact with the reality of their world after it had changed.