One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives by Bernd Heinrich by Todd Henson

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One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives, by Bernd Heinrich, is a collection of stories, or essays, each one about an individual species Heinrich personally observed and studied, most often from his home in the U.S. Northeast. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I listened to the Audible version while driving to and from work, or just working around the house. The narrator, Rick Adamson, did a great job with the bird calls and was easy to listen to.

I think the content would appeal to birders who enjoy observing and learning about different species, but I don’t know if it would appeal as much to a general audience. Each chapter is Heinrich’s observations about a specific species, most often from his cabins in the Northeast. He is a scientist and teaches students in the field. In most all cases his observations lead to hypothesis that he then proceeds to test, adapting the hypothesis as he accumulates new data. The scientific method. Having said all that, don’t let the science scare you off. It is written (or spoken) in a very easy to understand way. I can see why students would want to attend his in-the-field classes. He is a marvelous teacher.

Some of his experiments involved modifications to his house to allow him access to a woodpecker’s nest. He pulled birds to observe their health and what they’d been eating. He could tell this most often by pellets dropped by the baby birds, but in some cases the adults cleaned them up too quickly, so he used techniques that temporarily prevent the baby from swallowing the food, so he could see the actual food before it was ingested.

In another chapter he adopted a starling and observed its behavior. He talked about their mimicry, and even mentioned Mozart’s starling, which all brought back memories of reading the book Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. Another great book.

He appears to truly love what he does and has a great fondness for the birds he observes. To any birder on the path to learning everything they can about birds, give this book a try. You are likely to learn something about the species he discusses, and also about the methods he uses in his own learning. I certainly would not recommend some of his experiments to untrained people, but many of his methods would be useful to any of us.

I have several more of Bernd Heinrich’s books (The Homing Instinct, Life Everlasting, The Snoring Bird, The Trees in My Forest, Mind of the Raven, and Winter World) and look forward to the next one I read. Have you read any of these, or other books, by Bernd Heinrich? Let me know what you thought.