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Academic & Professional Books  Ornithology  Biology, Ecology & Behaviour

The Nesting Season Cuckoos, Cuckolds, and the Invention of Monogamy

Out of Print
By: Bernd Heinrich(Author)
337 pages, 52 colour plates
Publisher: Belknap Press
The Nesting Season
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  • The Nesting Season ISBN: 9780674061934 Paperback Nov 2011 Out of Print #196905
  • The Nesting Season ISBN: 9780674048775 Hardback May 2010 Out of Print #184530
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About this book

Why are the eggs of the marsh wren deep brown, the winter wren's nearly white, and the gray catbird's a brilliant blue? And what in the DNA of a penduline tit makes the male weave a domed nest of fibers and the female line it with feathers, while the bird-of-paradise male builds no nest at all, and his bower-bird counterpart constructs an elaborate dwelling? These are typical questions that the author pursues, supplemented here with photographs and original watercolors.

The Nesting Season shows how the sensual beauty of birds can open eyes to a hidden evolutionary process. Nesting, as the author explores it here, encompasses what fascinates most about birds – from their delightful songs and spectacular displays to their varied eggs and colorful plumage; from their sex roles and mating rituals to nest parasitism, infanticide and predation.

Customer Reviews


Bernd Heinrich is Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Vermont. He has written several memoirs of his life in science and nature, including One Man's Owl, and Ravens in Winter. Bumblebee Economics was twice a nominee for the American Book Award in Science, and A Year in the Maine Woods won the 1995 Rutstrum Authors' Award for Literary Excellence.

Out of Print
By: Bernd Heinrich(Author)
337 pages, 52 colour plates
Publisher: Belknap Press
Media reviews

"Blending scientific research with memoir, Heinrich reveals the complex courtship and mating rituals of birds – along with the startling commonalities between certain human and avian domestic arrangements [...] Skillfully narrated and illustrated by the author's own photographs and watercolor sketches, this book offers a range of intellectual and aesthetic pleasures."
- Publishers Weekly, 2010-03-15

"Bernd Heinrich, a renowned naturalist and emeritus professor of biology at the University of Vermont, argues in his eye-opening new book, The Nesting Season: Cuckoos, Cuckolds, and the Invention of Monogamy, there's little reason to suspect birds don't fall in love just like we do. Love, Heinrich writes, is an adaptive feeling that many animals share, one that causes them to act irrationally for the sake of reproduction. He suggests monogamy among birds evolved in a similar way, as a sexual strategy for rearing young in demanding environments. Drawing heavily on personal observations and evolutionary biology, Heinrich [...] sheds light on a wide array of subjects, from the prevalence of lesbian albatross in Hawaii to the peculiar dynamics of bird sex. And though he admits birds may love one another, we shouldn't necessarily look to them for ideal "family values." Australian malleefowl, he writes, bury their children in mounds of rotting vegetation and leave them for dead."
- Jed Lipinski, Salon, 2010-05-16

"In his new book, The Nesting Season: Cuckoos, Cuckolds, and the Invention of Monogamy, Heinrich returns to his first love, and throws himself into an in-depth study of the mating lives of birds. The result is a fascinating exploration of the biological origins of bonding and emotional attachment."
- Bruce Barcott, Outside online, 2010-06-02

"A flight through the beauty and brutality of bird life. From songs and displays, plumage, sex roles and mating rituals to nest parasitism, infanticide and predation."
- The Times, 2010-06-03

"A ramble through the home life of birds during the breeding season: a mixture of Heinrich's thoughts and experiences and the scientific literature [...] The stories he tells are charming and intriguing, and his intimate connection with the birds in the woods and bogs surrounding his home brings it all to life. The text is further enlivened by a large number of superb colour photographs, mainly of nests, eggs and chicks, and by some of Heinrich's own watercolours."
- Tim Birkhead, Times Higher Education, 2010-08-19

"Heinrich fans and anyone interested in birds will find his latest book thoroughly rewarding; a volume to turn to again and again."
- Lynn Harnett,, 2010-08-29

"As Marcel Proust illuminated our understanding of the brain, memory, and the self through artfully obsessive attention to detail, Bernd Heinrich, in The Nesting Season, illuminates our understanding of mating behavior through a similar focus on those details of life which most of us never notice [...] Like his previous books, The Nesting Season is illustrated with the author's own drawings, watercolors, and photographs. Like his previous books, The Nesting Season is one to read and read again. [...] Perhaps the best natural history book of the year! Heinrich illuminates one of the hottest topics in contemporary biology in a very accessible way. A great read."
- Wayne Mones, Audubon Magazine blog, 2010-10-14

"In The Nesting Season, Heinrich takes an extended, worldwide look at birds' various reproductive strategies. Birds employ such a variety of nesting behaviors, including polygamy (both polyandry and polygyny), single parenting, multiple broods, brood parasitism (laying eggs in nests of other species), and more, that seeing parallels with human behavior and that of other primates may seem unwarranted. However, Heinrich makes a good case for this in some situations. His belief that anthropomorphism has been over-demonized flies in the face of traditional science and is sure to be controversial. His 20 paintings and 50 excellent photographs enhance this fine, highly referenced, thoughtful book."
- H. T. Armistead, Choice, 2010-11-01

"Bernd Heinrich, a veteran U.S. ornithologist, knows better than to draw anthropomorphic parallels between birds and people, and in this beautifully produced and engagingly narrated book on the birds of New England and their nesting and mating habits he avoids any suggestion of simplistic moralizing. Nevertheless, the status of human monogamy is an almost secret subtext that runs through the whole work."
- Bradley Winterton, Taipei Times, 2010-11-21

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