The Homing Instinct: Meaning and Mystery in Animal Migration

Bernd Heinrich

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

Acclaimed scientist and author Bernd Heinrich has returned every year since boyhood to a beloved patch of western Maine woods. What is the biology in humans of this deep-in-the-bones pull toward a particular place, and how is it related to animal homing?

Heinrich explores the fascinating science chipping away at the mysteries of animal migration: how geese imprint true visual landscape memory; how scent trails are used by many creatures, from fish to insects to amphibians, to pinpoint their home if they are displaced from it; and how the tiniest of songbirds are equipped for solar and magnetic orienteering over vast distances. Most movingly, Heinrich chronicles the spring return of a pair of sandhill cranes to their home pond in the Alaska tundra. With his trademark "marvelous, mind-altering" prose (Los Angeles Times), he portrays the unmistakable signs of deep psychological emotion in the newly arrived birds, and reminds us that to discount our own emotions toward home is to ignore biology itself.

“How do we know where our home is, and how do we know when we’ve found it? These questions guide Heinrich’s account, which examines the intricate navigation strategies of species ranging from locusts to loons. Along the way, the author, a sea­soned scientist, incorporates stories of his own homecomings and extends insights gleaned from his animal subjects to human behavior.”
New York Times Book Review

"A noted naturalist explores the centrality of home in the lives of humans and other animals... Drawing on his own observations and research, as well as the work of such specialists as zoologist Archie Carr and ornithologist Gustav Kramer, Heinrich tells the homing stories of innumerable species and describes similarities to the behaviors of humans—innate homebodies who need only familiar landmarks to find their ways home... A special treat for readers of natural history."
Kirkus Reviews

"Retired biologist Heinrich (Life Everlasting) combines a scientific examination of animal migration with elements of journalism and memoir to produce a thoroughly engaging book."
Publisher's Weekly