Home is the place we long for most, when we feel we have travelled too far, for too long. Since boyhood, acclaimed scientist and author Bernd Heinrich has returned every year to a beloved patch of woods in his native western Maine. But while it's the pull of nostalgia that informs our desire to go back, what is it that drives the homing instinct in animals?
Heinrich explores the fascinating science behind the mysteries of animal migration: how geese imprint true visual landscape memory over impossible distances; how the subtlest of scent trails are used by many creatures, from fish to insects to amphibians, to pinpoint their home; and how the tiniest of songbirds are equipped for solar and magnetic orienteering over vast distances. Most movingly, Heinrich chronicles the spring return of a pair of sandhill cranes to their pond in the Alaska tundra. With his marvellously evocative prose, Heinrich portrays the psychological state of the newly arrived birds, articulating just what their yearly return truly means, to the birds and to those fortunate enough to witness this transcendently beautiful ritual. The Homing Instinct is an enchanting study of this phenomenon of the natural world, reminding us that to discount our own feelings toward home is to ignore biology itself.
Bernd Heinrich is an acclaimed scientist and author of numerous books, including the bestselling Winter World, Mind of the Raven, and Why We Run. He writes for Scientific American, Outside, American Scientist, and Audubon, and has contributed to the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Among Heinrich's many honours is the 2013 PEN New England Award for Nonfiction, for Life Everlasting.
– Sunday Telegraph
"In the manner of the best new nature writing [...] [Heinrich's] own story is as interesting and relevant as that of bees, beavers, and a pair of sandhill cranes that he knows as Millie and Roy [...] This combination of biology and psychology makes for a lively, knowledgeable narrative."
– The Times
"Heinrich, who combines his keen scientific eye with the soul of a poet, enthralls."
–New York Times
"One of the finest living examples of that strange hybrid: the science writer."
– Los Angeles Times
"A graceful blend of science and memoir [...] magical"
– Wall Street Journal
"Readers familiar with Bernd Heinrich’s writing will not be disappointed in the lucid, easy text in The Homing Instinct. The book is subtitled The Story and Science of Migration but this doesn’t truly reflect the scope of the book, as much of it is devoted to considering what a ‘home’ is and what it means for various animals, rather than simply how and why they swap home for home across the globe each year: the first section considers ‘Homing’ itself, the second ‘Home-making and Maintaining’ and the third ‘Homing Implications’. The result is a wide-ranging and thought-provoking book that is a really good read. Scientific anecdotes and studies are recounted alongside the author’s personal experience in a typically reflective, almost philosophical but warm and, dare I say it, ‘homely’ style. [...] thoroughly recommended [...]."
– Chris Hewson, BTO book reviews