“Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds” is very high on my list of the best nature-writing I’ve read to date. Heinrich, who has written several book about ravens, here examines myriad aspects of their complex lives, from play behavior, mating, following (or leading) predators.
From numerous field studies, as well as controlled experiments in his aviaries with wild-caught and captive-raised birds, Heinrich presents a rich and detailed picture of the Raven, but never goes too deep into scientific jargon, save for the final chapter, when he examines whether or not the raven is “intelligent.”
Interspersed with his research, he presents interviews with people who keep ravens as pets, and his own personal experiences interacting with them on a personal, rather than scientific, level. This also goes a long ways towards keeping the book well within the grasp of us non-scientists.
The factoids and just plain astonishing behaviors he documents are too many to describe, but among the more compelling are the ravens who have “saved” humans from nearby predators (mountain lions and bears) by making a racket – Bernd speculates that our interpretation may be exactly backwards, and that the ravens are in fact pointing out to the predators where a food source is! This makes more sense when you think about it, as if a raven shows a large animal to a kill, the raven will get to feed on it as well.
Another is the ravens’ early curiosity of all things foreign and new, which is replaced by fear as they grow up. This is though to be so that they can recognize a large manner of potential food and remember them while they’re young and still under their parent’s wing, but once older, unfamiliar items and objects can signal a trap or nearby predators, so they fear them. Most striking to me was an experiment where Heinrich dragged a dead small animal through the snow. Although his ravens had eaten this animal before, they freaked out. The natural conclusion is that they were afraid of the movement, but upon careful experimentation, he found that it was actually the unfamiliar string it was attached to that caused their fear! Likewise, they reacted with extreme fright to a new person introduced to their aviary, but if they wore Heinrich’s clothes, they accepted a stranger more readily.
I will grant that I am biased, since I admire ravens and am an enthusiastic bird-watcher, but “Mind of the Raven” is one of the best books I’ve read in the past couple of years. If you’re into birds, it’s a must-read, and even if not, it is presented in such a fascinating, warm way that you’re likely to enjoy it too.
My rating: Highly recommended!