• By Louise Jones

    Photography by Hubert Schriebl

    Heinrich watches as a cowbird lands in a chipping sparrow nest, tosses out one of the sparrow eggs and replaces it with one of her own. When the eggs hatch, the cowbird baby is huge compared to the chipping sparrows, and because its mouth is so large, it receives a majority of the food.

    Departments

    The Buzz
    Comprehensive Seasonal Calendar

    From the Editor
    In Praise of Play & Down Days

    People & Places
    Retired from Jobs, Perhaps, but Not From Life

    Bucko's Backyard
    It’s Been Fun

    Bookends
    Flying Blind

    Country Cooking
    An Abundance of Cucumbers

    Geoffrey Norman's Last Word
    In The Weeds

    The Nesting Season

    Cuckoos, Cuckolds, and the Invention of Monogamy

    Nesting Season 265x300 The Nesting SeasonBernd Heinrich is a well-respected Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Vermont who admits to a fascination with birds—their habits, their nests, even their eggs—since he was a child. So it is appropriate that in his eighteenth and latest book, The Nesting Season: Cuckoos, Cuckolds, and the Invention of Monogamy, he approaches his subject with a youthful enthusiasm. Part colorful memoir and part scientific investigation, his book is both charming and instructive—a difficult pairing, but successful here. His objective is to examine the biology of nesting birds, from monogamy and polygymy to polyandry and cuckoldry, following the course of the seasons at his rural Vermont home and his cabin in the Maine woods.

    He boldly states, “The lives of birds can help us better understand ourselves.” This is especially true, he says, in childrearing. “All other mammals are closer relatives to us than any bird,” he writes, “but birds and humans share many similar parenting problems, and so we have evolved some similar or evolutionary convergent solutions.” A pretty provocative statement that demands that we continue to read! Most birds are conscientious about providing a warm, safe location for their nests; about feeding their young and about guarding the nests from interlopers—all traits they have in common with us humans. With graceful writing and a subtle sense of humor, Heinrich keeps track of his avian visitors, especially several Canada geese who have lived on his pond— and in his house—for a number of years. “My shift in the way I looked at birds occurred when I raised ‘Peep,’ a Canada goose hatchling, to adulthood and then followed her life as she mated with a wild gander and nested in our beaver pond.” Just like an old friend, the adult Peep always stopped by for a visit when she was in town. Speaking of Canadas, he relates the amazingly close relationship a woman in Idaho named Ruth O’Leary had with two Canada geese that became very much like family to her.

    Pages: 1 2 3 4

    Comments

    comments