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Ravens in Winter

Ravens in Winter coverTitle: Ravens in Winter
Author: Bernd Heinrich
Publisher: Vintage (October 1991); Paperback, 400 pages.

This is the story of the author’s quest for an answer to “Why do ravens—at least in some cases—actively recruit others (outside of kinship groups) to share valuable food resources?” It’s a question that one might suppose has an easy answer and/or was well-documented long ago. Not so, and not so. Ravens have fascinated humans for thousands of years (they are prominently featured in many creation myths), and are often ascribed extraordinary intelligence. Still, their behavior is not well understood.

This book combines an introduction to ravens, and in particular Corvus corax (Common Raven), with a description in journal form of the author’s four-year study of ravens in the winters of western Maine. It’s a fascinating look at the day-to-day work of a curious and very tenacious researcher. He packed thousands of pounds of animal carcasses through mountainous terrain in often brutally-cold weather. Day after day, in temperatures as low as -25°F, he sat stock-still in unheated blinds or perched precariously near the tops of pine trees, with ears and eyes open, jotting down observations he hoped might lead to an answer to his question: “Why do they share?”

Did he answer it? Yes, he did. Did it lead to further questions? Of course it did, and I’m looking forward to reading his Mind of the Raven to learn more.

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