on 11 July 1999
Living in the mountains of colorado, I first became aware of ravens when one followed while I was tracking elk in the back country. It followed me, flying along tree to tree, "talking" to me, cocking its head as if waiting for a reply. With that introduction, I started noticing other odd behavior... huge flocks wheeling, and playing with each other... mimicry of the calls of raptors... and so forth.
I saw this book, and thought: its about time I learn something about the minds of these animals. Why do they do what they do? Well ravens are more interesting than I thought. Makes one wonder why social scavenger-hunters (humans, coyotes, ravens) turn out so clever regardless of where they pop out of the animal kingdom.
BUT EVEN MORE IMPORTANT... Prof. Heinrich's narrative is totally engaging and entertaining. I found myself laughing over and over gain as he quietly dropped comments about famous ornithologists that have died climbing trees, or the risks involved in demonstrating which bumblebees are edible to one's experimental charges (ie showing young ravens what's good to eat). It becomes very clear ethologists are an interesting species in themselves.
If you're interested in birds, or have ravens around, or generally interested in experimental ethology: this one is among the best
on 2 December 2010
I admit that "The Mind of the Raven" was an interesting book. Books about ravens and other corvids usually are. In that sense, it's worth reading. Provided you are interested in corvids, of course!
And yet, I nevertheless didn't like the book. Bernd Heinrich constantly attempts to prove that he is manly and macho, and seems to have a morbid fascination with death, blood and dominance. And yes, he really is Volksdeutsche. At one point, he gleefully reports a meaningless "experiment" he conducted at his farm: he quite simply tossed one of his geese into a cage housing hungry, young ravens, simply to see what would happen. Naturally, they attacked the poor goose. Is this man really a bird lover? He also threw a couple of chicken into the same cage, but this time the ravens didn't react. "The experiment was inconclusive". Heinrich must have been disappointed, so he killed the chicken, and fed them to the ravens in boiled condition instead!
There are also descriptions of how the author kills deer, opens the carcasses, and then places them in trees to attract the ravens. During a visit to Yellowstone, Heinrich complains about so many carnivores having left the area. Finally, however, he reaches a really wild part of the national park, where wolves roam and kill freely, accompanied by ravens, of course! We also learn about Heinrich's childhood, how he bred wild, dangerous animals on his parent's farm, and so on. Apparently, he lived in a unaccesible part of Maine most of his life.
Less gory are Heinrich's descriptions of a pet raven belonging to his good friend Doktor Klaus, and a trip to northern Canada to study a large flock of ravens which live right inside a town.
Sometimes I wonder whether natural history books tells us more about their authors than about the animals themselves...
But OK, I'll give the book four stars for the sake of the ravens.
Why do they hang from one foot, cavorting with a stick? Why are Maine ravens hesitant with a carcass while their western cousins gorge without fear beside wolves, coyotes or even eagles? Do they actually warn humans about predators, or are they opportunists awaiting the kill they hope to share? These mysterious birds, appearing in myths, legends, and, of course, Poe's lasting image, are Corvus corax - the Common Raven. Heinrich, who has studied these enigmatic avians for many years, shares his thoughts, achievements, frustrations and observations in this compelling narrative. In a series of invaluable accounts, crossing many countries and meeting many people, he shows us how much we have learned and need to study about these fascinating birds. No matter how strange reported raven behaviour may sound, he reminds us, "some raven, somewhere, actually did that".
Heinrich combines studies in the field with "experiments" performed in large aviaries. Although an avid runner, he loathes climbing trees. Of course, that's where ravens roost and nest. He climbs. He photographs. He steals eggs [to record parental response before restoring the eggs to the nest]. All of which provide him with more information on how ravens live. And think. Universally acknowledged as the most intelligent birds, ravens have demonstrated to Heinrich how little we understand that cognitive ability. This book's title is indicative of their behavioural variety. Chapter titles, ""Social Webs", "Vocal Communications", "Prestige", "Morality, Tolerance and Cooperation" and "Play" [yes, ravens seem to play for their own entertainment] speak volumes about how much has been learned about these amazing creatures. The text within them reveals we've only begun the quest for understanding. Whatever else may be derived from this informative book, Heinrich's plea for more studies is earnest and compelling. He is open with his admiration for the talents of his student assistants, but, clearly, there aren't enough of them.
Heinrich's study area reaches from Maine to anywhere. If you've ever watched a raven tearing at a trash bin, you'll understand Heinrich's hesitation at visiting "Jakob's" home in Germany. He was amazed to enter a neat, well-kept apartment instead of a scene of chaos. Jakob was as fastidious as his doctor owner. He even restricted his paper diet to junk mail. Among the wealth of accounts in this book, the most intriguing remains the relationship of ravens and wolves. It seems logical that ravens have learned to follow wolves. Evolution has taught them the advantages of following an effective predator. Heinrich, however, proposes this interaction works two ways with ravens guiding wolves to prey. He suggests that early humans, still killing quietly, may have cooperated with ravens in a similar way.
Offsetting Heinrich's wealth of information is the style he uses to present it. While no-one should object to his highly personalised account of his research and interests, some of the details might have been shaded or omitted. It's fascinating to accompany his waiting for local ravens to descend on his prepared bait [a quarter of a dead calf or road kill groundhogs]. That the sequence began at 05:29 on the morning of 08 May is less compelling. Especially when that type of detail is repeated frequently. This lapse of interest-garnering is wholly overshadowed by the variety of experiences in many places Heinrich recounts. The photographs and drawings illuminate further what the text relates. With an excellent bibliography to further anyone's reading, this is a treasure of a book. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
on 18 June 1999
To compare this book to Heinrich's "A Year in the Maine Woods", is to compare apples to oranges. "Mind of the Raven" is more, a continuation of the thought-provoking analysis the author began in his earlier work, "Ravens in Winter". "Mind of the Raven" carries us many steps farther in understanding, as an intriguing account of the on-going evaluation of these impressive birds' mental agility and singular place in nature. Heinrich takes us not only to the woods of Maine, but to Germany, California, the Artic, and Yellowstone Park, while he examines those qualities which define Ravens as a unique but adaptive species in a changing environment. Heinrich shares with us the scientific and personal experiences which reveal Ravens both as individuals, and as members of a complex but flexible social order scientists are only begining to understand. "Mind of the Raven" is not a dry, technical journal, and while not "light" reading, it is certainly comfortable reading. Heinrich's writing style is refreshingly "open". The book is, in the end, as revealing about the process of scientific fieldwork, success and failure, and the perserverance of an inquisitive mind as it is about Ravens. I would recommend "Mind of the Raven" to anyone interested in the continuing studies of animal intellect and behavior. Additionally, I heartily recommend it to mature young adults with an exceptional interest in these study areas. Heinrich's book reveals that while travel, and many hours of observation in "tight places" may be required to answer particular questions within a given field of science, a great deal may also be learned in our own backyards, with patience and an eye for detail.
on 14 May 1999
In this book, Mr. Heinrich does it again, with his apt, close-up observations of raven behavior that leave the mind in wonder at these most graceful, important birds. Why important? Read the book!
As a wildlife rehabilitator and one who has been in the process of attempting to release an imprinted raven to the wilds, I have witnessed in this bird, many of the behaviors described by Mr. Heinrich, as he applies them to the eastern / northern subspecies of Corvus corax, called C.c. principalis. Since I am on the west coast and dealing with the smaller subspecies, C.c. sinuatus, I can only surmise that the behaviors he ascribes to his eastern broods are going to be similar to my western friends. Though indeed they are, I must also keep in mind that just as certain jay species have certain geographical dialects, so ravens must also, and this variable can also apply to behavior.
Thank you, Bernd Heinrich, for publishing this wonderful work!
I am in the midst of reading it and find it extremely valuable to my own studies and am consisistently engrossed and enthralled, entertained and educated, by your observations put into writing.
As with Ravens In Winter, I am finding Mind of the Raven intensely gratifying in answering some of my questions and equally surprising in discovering that there is still so much more we need to learn about ravens as a species and corvids as a whole. Indeed, we can also learn something of ourselves, somehow. . .
on 14 July 1999
In this day and age it is refreshing to find that there are researchers willing to share personel views along with the hard evidence of their findings.
In the case of Dr.Heinrich I find that even when he makes an assumption it generally becomes fact with hard evidence to back his views. To read Mind of the Raven after reading his earlier book Ravens in Winter is to watch wisdom developing in what was already a very wise being.
Mind of the Raven should be mandatory reading in all of our schools.It is an excellent example of how we should view all life forms within our world. With curiosity and understanding.
on 1 July 2009
This is a great book. Gives an insight into the world of the Raven. It's not trying to give a natural history of Ravens but a personal history experience.
on 16 May 2013
If you like ravens, don't waste your time to hesitate, just take and read it!
A little bid academic, but his style of writing is funny and interestiog enough to read through if you are not an academic
on 8 April 2013
Science at its best, precise and readable for everybody with a healthy interest in nature. We are full cousins, nearly !
on 24 August 1999
I found this book to be fun to read at times, and I enjoyed learning about this interesting bird. But I found too many loose ends, where Mr. Heinrich gave up on a study before he finished it. A simple remotely controlled video camera would have helped him immensely in his study of wild ravens, but yet, he seemed to never use one and kept accidentally scaring them off. This is one scientist in need of an assistant to cover his works in progress when he has to attend other things. Several times, he mentioned studies that were ruined because he had to leave. All I can say is; I hope he gets more funding or finds someone to help him. He seems to have made some inroads in understanding ravens, it would be sad if this is all he did with his studies.