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March 29, 2014 / Leslie

Review: The Homing Instinct by Bernd Heinrich

The HomingI nstinctThe Homing Instinct
Meaning and Mystery in Animal Migration
by Bernd Heinrich

Genre: Science, Nature
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publish Date: April 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover | 368 pages
Rating: 4½ of 5

From the Publisher:

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?

My Thoughts:

From the title of Bernd Heinrich’s new book, The Homing Instinct, I was expecting a scientific exploration of the migratory behaviors of birds and other creatures that embark on long journeys to and from their breeding grounds, but I found, along with science, an introspective look into the nature and the need to return home. Mixed in with the science, both the author’s own research and that of other scientists, I discovered a beautifully written book consisting of many stories and observations, giving many parts of the book the feel of a memoir. Present throughout is the theme, ‘What is home?’ and ‘Why do all creatures, including humans, feel that pull to return to the place they are from?’.

The Homing Instinct is divided into three sections, the first part delving into homing behavior using the examples of Sandhill Cranes, Monarch butterflies and honey bees to name a few, and their remarkable ability to navigate by the sun and stars, recognize landmarks and arrive at their destination without getting lost. In the second part the author discusses homemaking behavior: types of homes or nests and how to choose the spot, and not only for the animals, this also applies to humans and he uses the example of his own family home and land in the woods of western Maine. In the third part, herding behaving and homing to each other rather than a place is discussed.

There is much to like about Heinrich’s approachable and engaging writing style, and enjoyable stories and anecdotes. In one of my favorite chapters we learn about a web orb spider that made her home inside his home. For two summers he observed and chronicled her behavior, even naming her Charlotte, and in the end discovered that her actions did not follow established spider lore. Another favorite was the story of an old apple tree that he dated to 1790 and his research into the mysterious origin of the tree. Of much interest to me was the sad tale of the now extinct Passenger Pigeon, a victim of man, but also of its own biology and its need to return in enormous size groups to only a few nesting grounds, making it easy prey for hunters.

In both animals and humans, we all yearn to return to that place called home, the place where we feel we belong. Highly recommended, not only for those who enjoy nature, but anyone who wants to better understand our need to return to our roots.

Source: Review copy from the publisher through AmazonVine.
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Leave a Comment
  1. irene / Mar 29 2014 4:56 pm

    sounds very good.


  2. WordsAndPeace / Mar 29 2014 5:23 pm

    Oh my this sounds so good!


  3. Arti / Mar 29 2014 10:26 pm

    This is just wonderful. I like it already. It’s always more meaningful to draw out implications from the scientific findings and even better, adding a metaphorical layer. Thanks for this review, Leslie. I will watch for it.


  4. Louise / Mar 30 2014 6:12 am

    This sounds such a fascinating topic, and such an interesting approach. I’ve never heard of this author before, but will certainly keep an eye out for his books.


  5. Sue / Mar 30 2014 6:17 am

    I do like his other books, and look forward to reading this one.


  6. Mary / Mar 30 2014 9:45 am

    Love the cover! Sounds like a fascinating topic too.


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