THE NESTING SEASON: CUCKOOS,CUCKOLDS AND THE INVENTION OF MONOGAMY (337 pp., Harvard University Press, 2010)
From the book jacket: "Why are the eggs of the marsh wren deep brown, the winter wren's nearly white, and the gray catbird's a brilliant blue? And what in the DNA of a penduline tit makes the male weave a domed nest of fibers and the female line it with feathers, while the bird-of-paradise male builds no nest at all, and his bower-bird counterpart constructs an elaborate dwelling? These are typical questions that Bernd Heinrich pursues in the engaging style we've come to expect from him―supplemented here with his own stunning photographs and original watercolors. One of the world's great naturalists and nature writers, Heinrich shows us how the sensual beauty of birds can open our eyes to a hidden evolutionary process. Nesting, as Heinrich explores it here, encompasses what fascinates us most about birds―from their delightful songs and spectacular displays to their varied eggs and colorful plumage; from their sex roles and mating rituals to nest parasitism, infanticide, and predation. What moves birds to mate and parent their young in so many different ways is what interests Heinrich―and his insights into the nesting behavior of birds has more than a little to say about our own."
REVIEWS (5 of 5 stars on Amazon): "Heinrich fans and anyone interested in birds will find his latest book thoroughly rewarding; a volume to turn to again and again."–Lynn Harnett
"Heinrich's books are always fascinating. I found this one to contain a bit more than I wanted to read about birds and their nests and eggs and behavior, but just when I would tire of reading it, Heinrich would describe another amazing bit of bird knowledge."—Patricia Kramer
BERND HEINRICH WRITES ABOUT THE NESTING SEASON:
Few things in nature are as beautiful as birds’ eggs. We see them as if gussied up in all colors of the rainbow. They are marked with all manner of spots, blotches and squiggles. We see them in museum displays, one egg next to another, and all different, like Easter eggs fancied up with paint jobs. Bird's egg coloration is advertised as artistry, as if it were cheap decorations for the sake of (false) beauty. Yet the real beauty of eggs' markings is in their meaning that can only be seen in the ecological context of nature at large. They contain a color code that has been honed by natural selection over the millions of years of birds' evolution, and still going on in the present day. This is a story, and it is a huge and fascinating one that adds vastly to the beauty of birds.
The main reason to be interested in science is for the stories, and stories come from coherence of facts. As in art, random blotches of paint are merely incoherent nonsense, unless they become interpreted to become a story. This, the nexus of science and art, is in the beauty in the coherence of facts. I had over the years photographed birds’ nests and their eggs because I felt them to be beautiful for the meaning beyond their forms, colors, and obvious vehicles of reproduction. I wanted to publish a book of my photographs and drawings of them, with perhaps a caption of explanations for each.
I approached Harvard University Press to discuss this project, and they were receptive to my idea, except for one thing - they wanted not just a picture book, but text also. I accented, and suggested centering the text on the evolution of parenting strategies, since eggs and their color codes are central to several important parenting behaviors. Happily, Harvard University Press agreed, and as promised prominently displayed and beautifully presented not only the text but also a fair sample of my photographs and watercolors.