Thoughts: Mind of the Raven, by Bernd Heinrich

Slightly embarrassing admission, I picked this one up as story research (for a story that I haven’t finished or touched in a while – indeed, the same story I read Gifts of the Crow for – but still).

The tempting thing is to compare it to Gifts of the Crow, and indeed the authors seem to have rubbed scientific shoulders before, which makes sense given that they’re in the same field, but let’s not, if only because it’s been a long time and having a baby has melted vast holes in my brain.

I really enjoyed Mind of the Raven, which is the (or a) story of Heinrich’s personal research on ravens. I don’t want to say it’s less “scientific” than Marzluff and Angell’s book, but perhaps I could say it’s less “technical”? It feels more “personal”? Heinrich tells us in detail about specific ravens he has known, raised and observed, describing their behaviour and power/relationship dynamics. He’s careful not to extrapolate his findings to ravens in general, clear-eyed about the immense spectrum of raven personality as well as regional differences in behaviour he’s observed. Sometimes he can only speculate as to the reasoning behind a bird’s actions.

He’s open about the frustrations of experiments with wild animals with so many uncontrollable environmental factors in play, the huge commitment and effort it takes to actually raise ravens responsibly* and the likelihood of ever having concrete answers to many of our questions. In that sense it taught me a little about what it’s like to work in this branch of science as a whole, as well as about ravens specifically.

Heinrich is very open to other people’s observations and data points too (often corroborated across different anecdotes), and shares with us some stories people have sent him about their own raven encounters. His stance is that there often isn’t reason to disbelieve what people report. He does, however, sometimes give us his own theories on what might have really been going on – thinking specifically of the woman who described her rescue from a cougar by a raven, which might actually have been the raven signalling to the cougar that there was a potential meal nearby…

His investigations on how ravens and predators work together, and how/why they figure so heavily in so much human mythology was fascinating too. Just how much of science is sort of unquantifiable, how much relies on unpredictable beings and unrecordable/unrepeatable historical contexts. I almost ended the book with more questions than I started with, but what interesting questions they are.

*haha yes those Crow People still annoy me!

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