82 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing Investigations into the Lives and Minds of Ravens
In "Mind of the Raven", biologist Bernd Heinrich delves into the behavior of ravens as individuals who might have a conscious choice, as opposed to taking a strictly behavioral ecologist perspective of those behaviors as being simply the results of evolutionary necessity. Heinrich strives to share the insight into the world of ravens which he gained over the...
Published on March 22, 2004 by mirasreviews
24 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Quite Stellar
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...
Published on August 23, 1999
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82 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing Investigations into the Lives and Minds of Ravens,
In "Mind of the Raven", biologist Bernd Heinrich delves into the behavior of ravens as individuals who might have a conscious choice, as opposed to taking a strictly behavioral ecologist perspective of those behaviors as being simply the results of evolutionary necessity. Heinrich strives to share the insight into the world of ravens which he gained over the course of nearly a decade of studying and interacting with ravens, both wild and captive, at his Vermont and Maine homes. "Mind of the Raven" isn't confined to the birds' intelligence or consciousness, although chapters on these fascinating and controversial subjects are included. The "mind" of the book's title encompasses all behavior and experience in these birds' lives. Heinrich details innumerable observations and experiments which he conducted on the subjects of raven feeding and educating their young, cooperation, hunting, adoption, dominance, sensory perception, individual recognition, communication, fears, interaction with other animals, caching, deception, play, intelligence, and emotions. Heinrich seems to possess an insatiable -and infectious- curiosity about these magnificent birds, which is demonstrated in his exhausting and endlessly inventive experiments. Heinrich's studies are as controlled and straightforward as possible. And although they sometimes raise more questions than they answer, they never fail to entertain or to impress the reader with the complexity and variety of raven personalities. It's nice to read a book by a scientist who has such an enthusiasm for his field of study, as well as genuine affection for his subjects. "Mind of the Raven" is a very readable broad account of the lives and minds of these large, clever corvids that have so populated human folklore and experience for thousands of years. I recommend it to any bird-lover, and those who have occasion to observe ravens will find Bernd Heinrich's insights especially interesting.
52 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Idiosyncratic, charming, thought-provoking and informative,
This book is a wealth of information about ravens. While most of other books are set in Maine, here Heinrich travels farther afield to discuss ravens in the Arctic, Yellowstone, a pet raven in Germany, and elsewhere -- in addition to his own wild and tame ravens in Maine.
I can imagine some scientists (and others) being annoyed by Heinrich's style. His research questions are guided by his own natural curiosity and not by what the scientific community defines as important. He isn't trained as an ornithologist. Heinrich clearly depends on his own observations and does not like to delegate -- so his methods are not those of a scientist running a lab or something like a lab. For most of us, though, these "faults" make him all the more interesting. He is certainly high on the list of authors I'd like to invite to dinner.
Heinrich also seems to be a born teacher. He does a great job explaining ravens as well as explaining the process of discovery that brings him to his conclusions.
If you think that a bird can't possibly be conscious (or self-conscious), that a bird can't be intelligent, and that a bird can't have a real personality, this book will drive you nuts. If you think any of those things are *possible*, Heinrich gives you some thought-provoking stories about ravens.
46 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gotta love this raving naturalist,
Bernd applies his multi-faceted brand of research to a species that is clearly close to his heart (the raven), with spectacular results. He weaves anecdotes and scientific studies together flawlessly to draw conclusions that are hard to argue with, if only because he refuses to draw unwarranted conclusions when the evidence isn't clear. He personally studies ravens in his northeastern home area, in Alaska, and in Germany to note the differences between different populations of the animal. He also draws extensively on his observations from his own aviary, where it seems he is at times obsessively painstaking in recording nuances of behavior that would fly over the heads of the average bird owner.
The Good and the Bad:
This book has been done right, with a real attempt to keep the reader's interest without compromising the scientific value of the work. The information given is enough to be compelling without being too boring about statistics. The end of the book gets a little more tilted towards hard science, with a fairly in-depth discussion about what warrants consciousness and intelligence, but there's no other conclusion that would be appropriate.
On the bad side, there are very occasional forays into self-indulgence, as when he takes the opportunity to argue the comments of a peer reviewer who contributed to the rejection of the publication of his study, or when a not-so-funny joke is recounted.
What I learned:
The raven is a remarkable animal, and consciousness evolves for as much of a specific reason as anything else. One bird might be given all of the instinct necessary to operate within a very narrow range of activity, but shorted on additional brain tissue, which is costly to maintain. But the raven has evolved to develop food gathering skills through problem-solving, which allows it to be much more flexible in its approach to food gathering, social interactions, and defense. This hardwired ability to solve problems manifests itself as curiosity, a desire to play, and the ability to visualize consequences without actually performing the action; this last is the most compelling criterion for awareness.
Other interesting raven facts: They can count to as high as seven. They hunt items ranging from ground squirrels to baby seals, but subsist mostly on the carrion provided by bigger predators. They lack the physical ability to pierce skin, and so have to eat through natural body openings or wounds. They have a collaborative relationship with other predators, generally wolves, which results in the ravens possibly directing the wolves to a kill so that they can take their share. This has a strange effect where they're actually uncomfortable eating from a carcass that lacks a predator as a feeding partner. This relationship has been transferred to other species where wolves are scarce, ranging from human hunters to polar bears to, possibly, a cougar, which seemed to be led to a human by a raven hoping to feast on the aftermath of a human kill. The problem-solving abilities were best demonstrated by the fact that a raven, when confronted with a piece of meat dangling from a string, will pull the string up by degrees so that it can reach the meat.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful wonderful book,
By A Customer
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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
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Corvid capers,
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 play, apparently 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. Additionally, his photographs and drawings illuminate further what he relates in the text. With an excellent bibliography to further anyone's reading, this is a treasure of a book.
[stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thus quoth the raven: QUORK! You go, Bernd Heinrich!,
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. . .
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind of the Raven" is thought-provoking, comfortable reading,
By A Customer
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.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Entertaining and Enlightening Book,
A delightful book, "Mind of the Raven" takes the reader into the life of a truly amazing bird. Professor Heinrich writes more than just statistical trends: he brings us on a journey that makes us feel as though we know these birds personally. The book includes the results of Heinrich's studies, his personal interpretations and many, many wonderful stories about Heinrich's relationships with these birds. This is a very personal book, and goes beyond watching from a distance. Some scientists from certain schools of thought may find the book to be poor science. I couldn't disagree more. In a time when behaviorists are admitting that animals are conscious creatures, and the studies of animal behavior and cognitive psychology are slowly becoming one, Heinrich presents some fresh looks and new, creative methods to study animal minds. One can never truly know an animal until one is able to know what it knows, and why it feels that it does what it does. Bernd Heinrich certainly doesn't have all the answers - nor does he claim to - but he brings us as close to this kind of understanding as anybody possibly could. Dr. Heinrich, despite what critics say, keep up the wonderful work that you do. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but someday, this sort of research will be crucial to animal behavior/psychology studies, and you will have been one a small few who helped to usher it in. I highly recommend this book!
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind of the Raven. An honest view without skullduggery,
By A Customer
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.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting, Informative, Awesome and Heartwarming,
Starting from a basic love of nature, with curiosity about why Ravens are considered so special by the original people of the Northwest where I live, I was drawn to read Mind of the Raven. Never did I suspect the enthralling, delightful adventure into the world of the zoologist, the process of inquiry that generates discoveries made with great dedication, and caring and a sense of humor that would make the reading of this book a page-turning thrill. Bernd Heinrich has a gift for igniting wonderment at all of the creatures and plants in our ecosystem, and while he is focusing on the raven in this book, his enthusiasm for all nature is eloquently expressed in a perfect blend of scientific inquiry, and life experiences a layman could understand and enjoy. His years of raven study and living in the wilderness, his scientific expertise honed by dedicated experience, combine to offer us the best of all reads, fun, information, inspiration and delight as well as a treasurestore of knowledge about the amazing raven. Read it!! I am now on my third book of his and will be sure to read them all. Enjoy!
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Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds by Bernd Heinrich (Paperback - May 29, 2007)