Jan 29, 2019

One Wild Bird at a Time

Portraits of Individual Lives
by Bernd Heinrich

As other readers have pointed out (check out reviews on Goodreads) this is not really individual portraits, it is about certain species though. Bernd Heinrich is a keen birdwatcher with a scientific mind. Each chapter tells of a species he observes in the woods around his cabin in the Maine woods, detailing specifics of behavior he was curious to learn about. Most times he had a question in mind and posed a way to answer it. He caught chickadees and placed them (briefly) in an enclosure to see how quickly they would learn to associate certain kinds of leaf damage with provided insect food. He dug up ruffed grouse snow dens to count their fecal pellets to determine how long they used each den. When a small bird accidentally dashed itself against a window escaping a predator and died, he took the opportunity to inspect its stomach contents and find out what it had been eating at the top of conifers. In all, seventeen kinds of birds are here- including flycatchers, woodcocks, grosbeaks, starlings, crows, barred owls, nuthatches, blue jays and redpolls. I found most interesting the chapter about chickadees' intelligence and foraging methods, the one about very close observations on a flicker nest (they built a home inside the wall of his house and he cut a window to it, in his bedroom), the one on crested flycatchers- a nesting pair faced the intrusion of other adults who wanted to feed their young- and the one about a male phoebe who lost its mate and its long search for a new partner. It was really interesting that Heinrich's notes on red-winged blackbird behavior kind of countered what's considered common knowledge about the birds' territoriality and aggression. Sometimes the book gets a little dry- the author relates numbers: two birds fly over, one returns, four arrive, three stay behind, etc. Or how many trips parent birds make per day bringing food, how many mintues they linger at the nest each time. Sometimes he makes a conclusion from all the collected data, other times the segment ends with questions still in mind. Which of course is realistic, but leaves the reader wanting to know more.

I'd really like to read more of his works on individuals- The Geese of Beaver Bog, for example- but my library has a narrow selection. I still haven't read Summer World, either... Borrowed this one from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                   210 pages, 2016

1 comment:

Stefanie said...

Sounds like a good read. Though my first inclination if a bird killed itself against my window would not be to investigate the contents of its stomach!