The Homing Instinct: Meaning & Mystery in Animal Migration

Houghton Harcourt. Apr. 2014. 384p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780547198484. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780547523637. NAT HIST
OrangeReviewStarReaders of this, or any of Heinrich's previous books (Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death), will recognize his habits of mind—observing, questioning, measuring, wondering, drawing, problem solving—the supply of applicable gerunds nearly runs out. Here the author explores homing and home building, working the theme across the animal spectrum (with a side trip into the vegetal world of chestnut trees). Heinrich (emeritus, biology, Univ. of Vermont) divides his latest work into three broad sections: the first, perhaps most familiar to readers, covers homing, where the wonders of some migratory animals' navigational prowess is examined; the second investigates the physical structures in which some beasts dwell; and, in a richly allusive third part, where Heinrich's own return home frames the narrative, he considers how all of this relates to human biology and culture. Much of the author's inquiry occurs locally, in the Maine woods, but the study of some extraordinary homemakers—frogs, sociable weaver birds, sandhill cranes—takes him to far-flung Suriname, the Kalahari, and Alaska.
VERDICT Natural history fans will love this book. Its appeal is multilayered, with many fascinating instances of Heinrich's fabled fieldwork and plenty of hard science. Add to that those moments where the author stands agape at what he observes—say, a spider's web—and the writing nearly attains the lyric poignancy of poetry. [See Prepub Alert, 11/1/13.]
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