The corvid family is considered to be the smartest family of birds on the planet. Corvids include crows, jays, magpies, nutcrackers and the biggest of them all, the ravens. Although entitled “The Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds” (Harper Collins; 1999) this book looks at the intelligence and behaviors of many corvid species.
Those who love learning about corvids will already be familiar with author and biologist Bernd Heinrich’s previous book on the subject, “Ravens in Winter” (Vintage; 1991.) Don’t let that book put you off from picking up this one. This is a much, much more readable, thorough and enjoyable book than “Ravens in Winter”, which started brilliantly and then became a series of repetitive observations. Think of “Mind of the Raven” as what “Ravens in Winter: The Next Generation.”
Heinrich does touch on “Ravens in Winter” several times in “Mind of the Raven” but they are summaries rather than deeply detailed passages. He recounts stories not only of wild ravens or what other biologists wrote about wild ravens, but also recounts his misadventures as a wild bird rehabilitator. He also interviews a few people who had ravens as temporary pets.
There are many photos and sketches, which liven up the book’s prose. There is also a thorough index, notes and one of the most extensive bibliographies about corvids put down on one place. The book is also much better organized, with chapter names that clearly lets the reader know what they are getting themselves in for. As a reference for freelance writers, these chapter names can quickly help you find the information you are looking for.
The Main Problem
The real problem of “Mind of the Raven” is that we do not know very much about corvids at all. Crows, magpies and ravens have not been considered worthy enough of study as compared to other birds like swans, eagles or songbirds. “Mind of the Raven” only is a rough sketch at best about what could possibly be going on in those feathered heads.
Another tantalizing problem hinted at in the subtitle is why corvids are so fond of canines. It is theorized that ravens and wolves developed a relationship as both species evolved. Wolves and coyotes would follow the corvids, which often gather in great numbers at a kill, and individual corvids will follow canines to see if the latter will lead them to any food.
One thing is clear is that corvids are uninterested in people and make terrible pets. These are wild creatures in the sense that although intelligent, will prefer the company of their own kind or a dog than to that of a person. Perhaps this disdain makes ravens all the more attractive.
“The Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds.” Bernd Heinrich. Harper Collins; 1999.
“Ravens in Winter.” Bernd Heinrich. Vintage; 1991.
Genome News Network. “The Mind of the Raven.”http://www.genomenewsnetwork.org/articles/06_00/Mind_raven_review.php