Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Homing Instinct by Bernd Heinrich - Book Review

Home Beckons.....

Animal migration is a well- known phenomenon and most of us do not give much thought to it. If we do think about it in passing, we would imagine that weather and food would be the driving reasons for the animals and birds to migrate and  that they must be genetically programmed to manage the migration process. But in this fascinating book ‘The Homing Instinct’, Bernd Heinrich creates scientific poetry by delving deep into the mechanisms and mysteries of animal migration: how geese imprint true landscape memory; hoe scent trails are used by many creatures from fish to amphibians, to pinpoint heir home if they are displaced from it; and how the tiniest of songbirds are equipped for solar and magnetic orienteering over vast distances.

It will surprise the reader on realizing that even butterflies can migrate over hundreds of miles and some ocean birds can fly thousands of miles without even stopping once! And over the vast ocean landscape how do they even know where they are? Many, many more similar mysteries are covered in this wonderful book. Another real surprise is the deep physiological emotions showed by many creatures when they get back to their home, that Bernd highlights with a beautiful example of the sandhill cranes.

With this as a back ground Bernd then builds up a larger story of what a home means to animals as well as humans and what a home and its creation means for human happiness and survival. The variety of creatures that Bernd covers is mind boggling – from cranes, albatrosses, loons, geese, pigeons to locusts, bees, dragon fly, butterflies, and then to ants, beetles and leeches and goes on to Turtles, Salmon, Eels and many more!

Once in a while, Bernd gets carried away with personal stories and a couple of chapters do get really boring with his hunting stories along with his nephew!. But barring that, the book is an amazing read and a great example of how science can be practiced by observing even the most routine happenings in Nature.

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