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

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Overview

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 Bernd Heinrich pursues in the engaging style we've come to expect from him—supplemented here with his own stunning photographs and original watercolors. One of the world's great naturalists and nature writers, Heinrich shows us how the sensual beauty of birds can open our eyes to a hidden evolutionary process. Nesting, as Heinrich explores it here, encompasses what fascinates us 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.

What moves birds to mate and parent their young in so many different ways is what interests Heinrich—and his insights into the nesting behavior of birds has more than a little to say about our own.

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Editorial Reviews

Salon

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

Outside online

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

Times Higher Education

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

seacoastonline.com

Heinrich fans and anyone interested in birds will find his latest book thoroughly rewarding; a volume to turn to again and again.
— Lynn Harnett

Audubon Magazine blog

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

Choice

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

Taipei Times

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

Times Union

The Nesting Season elegantly combines the author's prodigious knowledge of birds with observations gleaned from a life spent close to them, at his home in Vermont, where a pair of geese regularly build their nest on his property, and at a cabin in the woods of Maine, where he for years had a huge raven aviary ("a quarter of a mile around or something") for the study of intelligence in individual birds. The book also contains 52 pages of fascinating and informative color drawings and photographs—of birds, nests, eggs, and young—by the author.
— Elizabeth Floyd Mair

Charleston Gazette

The latest master work by one of my favorite nature writers. The Nesting Season digs deeply into the biology of nesting birds, from monogamy and polygyny to polyandry and cuckoldry. Replete with many color illustrations, Heinrich's latest book answers many of the questions I get this time of year.
— Scott Shalaway

American Scientist

The book is illustrated with Heinrich's own drawings and photographs, with which he further demonstrates his prowess as a natural historian. The pictures alone make the book well worth the purchase price.
— Sarah Kocher

BioScience

The Nesting Season is referenced throughout, and 21 pages of endnotes provide direction to the literature Heinrich has consulted, making the book useful for layman and professional alike. It will join all of the other Heinrich books on my shelf, and I expect that I will return to this book from time to time, rereading it for the pure pleasure, as I do Bumblebee Economics or good novels. A popular book on natural history that also makes a scientific contribution while ranking as great literature is a rare bird indeed.
— Ronald C. Ydenberg

Choice
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
The Times
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.
Times Higher Education
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
American Scientist
The book is illustrated with Heinrich's own drawings and photographs, with which he further demonstrates his prowess as a natural historian. The pictures alone make the book well worth the purchase price.
— Sarah Kocher
Salon
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
Charleston Gazette
The latest master work by one of my favorite nature writers. The Nesting Season digs deeply into the biology of nesting birds, from monogamy and polygyny to polyandry and cuckoldry. Replete with many color illustrations, Heinrich's latest book answers many of the questions I get this time of year.
— Scott Shalaway
BioScience
The Nesting Season is referenced throughout, and 21 pages of endnotes provide direction to the literature Heinrich has consulted, making the book useful for layman and professional alike. It will join all of the other Heinrich books on my shelf, and I expect that I will return to this book from time to time, rereading it for the pure pleasure, as I do Bumblebee Economics or good novels. A popular book on natural history that also makes a scientific contribution while ranking as great literature is a rare bird indeed.
— Ronald C. Ydenberg
Taipei Times
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
Times Union
The Nesting Season elegantly combines the author's prodigious knowledge of birds with observations gleaned from a life spent close to them, at his home in Vermont, where a pair of geese regularly build their nest on his property, and at a cabin in the woods of Maine, where he for years had a huge raven aviary ("a quarter of a mile around or something") for the study of intelligence in individual birds. The book also contains 52 pages of fascinating and informative color drawings and photographs--of birds, nests, eggs, and young--by the author.
— Elizabeth Floyd Mair
Outside online
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
Audubon Magazine blog
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
seacoastonline.com
Heinrich fans and anyone interested in birds will find his latest book thoroughly rewarding; a volume to turn to again and again.
— Lynn Harnett
Publishers Weekly
Blending scientific research with memoir, Heinrich (A Year in the Maine Woods) reveals the complex courtship and mating rituals of birds—along with the startling commonalities between certain human and avian domestic arrangements. Since research suggests that similar hormonal activity precedes both human and nonhuman mating, he also argues for applying so-called “anthropomorphic” labels like “love” to the behavior of birds. How else can one describe the tribulations that emperor penguins undergo to hatch their lone egg and raise their young? Heinrich also explores how some birds use plumage to attract mates while others use dance, elaborate nests, etc., to attract females, all an attempt to maximize the chances of passing on their genes; the ingenious strategies they use to protect their eggs; how the size of the clutch of eggs depends on whether the species is monogamous with the male helping feed the mother and the young (more babies) or not; and how males who leave the nest, or “cheat,” risk being cuckolded themselves. Skillfully narrated and illustrated by the author's own photographs and watercolor sketches, this book offers a range of intellectual and aesthetic pleasures. (May)
The Times
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.
John Alcock
A truly excellent and delightful book. Heinrich uses his own observations to teach us what a curious biologist finds intriguing about bird behavior.
Richard Rhodes
Heinrich studies birds in the great tradition of Audubon, and with equal perception. Beautifully illustrated by the author, The Nesting Season illuminates courtship, reproduction, and chick rearing. Heinrich's insights into egg colors and patterns alone make the book invaluable.
Scott Forbes
The intimate life of birds is revealed here by a brilliant naturalist.
Salon - Jed Lipinski
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.
Outside online - Bruce Barcott
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.
Times Higher Education - Tim Birkhead
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.
seacoastonline.com - Lynn Harnett
Heinrich fans and anyone interested in birds will find his latest book thoroughly rewarding; a volume to turn to again and again.
Audubon Magazine blog - Wayne Mones
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.
Choice - H. T. Armistead
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.
Taipei Times - Bradley Winterton
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.
Times Union - Elizabeth Floyd Mair
The Nesting Season elegantly combines the author's prodigious knowledge of birds with observations gleaned from a life spent close to them, at his home in Vermont, where a pair of geese regularly build their nest on his property, and at a cabin in the woods of Maine, where he for years had a huge raven aviary ("a quarter of a mile around or something") for the study of intelligence in individual birds. The book also contains 52 pages of fascinating and informative color drawings and photographs--of birds, nests, eggs, and young--by the author.
Charleston Gazette - Scott Shalaway
The latest master work by one of my favorite nature writers. The Nesting Season digs deeply into the biology of nesting birds, from monogamy and polygyny to polyandry and cuckoldry. Replete with many color illustrations, Heinrich's latest book answers many of the questions I get this time of year.
American Scientist - Sarah Kocher
The book is illustrated with Heinrich's own drawings and photographs, with which he further demonstrates his prowess as a natural historian. The pictures alone make the book well worth the purchase price.
BioScience - Ronald C. Ydenberg
The Nesting Season is referenced throughout, and 21 pages of endnotes provide direction to the literature Heinrich has consulted, making the book useful for layman and professional alike. It will join all of the other Heinrich books on my shelf, and I expect that I will return to this book from time to time, rereading it for the pure pleasure, as I do Bumblebee Economics or good novels. A popular book on natural history that also makes a scientific contribution while ranking as great literature is a rare bird indeed.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674061934
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2011
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,429,713
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

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.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Love Birds 9

2 Monogamy 35

3 Polygyny and Polyandry 65

4 Penguins and Us 79

5 Fine-tuning Nesting Time 89

6 Strutting Their Stuff 103

7 Nest Site and Safety 133

8 Nest Materials and Construction 167

9 The Egg 185

10 Parenting in Pairs 195

11 Cuckolds, Cuckoos, Cowbirds, and Color Codes 235

End of the Nesting Season 291

Appendix Latin Names of Bird Species 297

Notes 309

Acknowledgments 331

Index 333

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