Fall Reading - The Snoring Bird

October 16, 2009

This fall I picked up a copy of Bernd Heinrich's "The Snoring Bird: My Family's Journey Through a Century of Biology". Heinrich is an accomplished naturalist (as well as writer), that is particularly well know for his studies of ravens. A couple of years ago I read his book "The Mind of the Raven", and was enthralled by Heinrich's accounts of his meticulous studies done on raven behavior from his little cabin in the wilds of Maine.

Heinrich comes by it honestly as his father, Gerd, was also a very dedicated naturalist. Gerd was obsessed in particular with ichneumons (parasitic wasps). Gerd fought in both world wars, and in between traveled the world collecting birds (the title refers to a very rare breed of rail of which he obtained a specimen) and ichneumons for museum collections.

The memoir begins in Poland before WWI at the Heinrich's large, farm estate of Borowke. Borowke is cast in an utopian hue, in that a life in intimate connection to the land and cycles of nature is described. It was a life that was eventually uprooted and destroyed by war. The politics, and motivations that led up to both wars is told through the personal experiences of the family, and in his recounting, Heinrich tries to remain as objective and honest as possible. Bernd was born in 1943, a couple of years before his family was forced to flee their beloved Borowke (due to the Red Army invasion of 1945), and beginning a harrowing journey west sustained by their wits and a lot of luck. They eventually end up in the Hahnheide forest near Hamburg, living in a tiny cabin for five years before emigrating to the states. I am about halfway through the book, and I can't put it down. It's a great mix of history at the personal and public levels, family, science, and of how a passion for the natural world is passed from one generation to the next. I can't properly convey the brilliance of Bernd Heinrich and the richness of this book (and his others), so you will just have to read it for yourself.


  1. Heinrich's great! To answer your question from another post I do have Ravens In Winter but am ashamed to say I haven't read it yet. I think I've also got Winter World but I'm not sure.

    He started teaching at UVM the year I started there but he was in the biology dept, not the wildlife biology dept (two entirely different programs in different buildings). It bums me out to think I could've taken classes with him had I only known about him!

    A cabin in the wilds of Maine sounds divine ;)

  2. I've heard good things about Winter World too, and think it may be next in line after I finish the Snoring Bird. I think Heinrich still teaches at UVM, so maybe you sign up for that second degree!


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