Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien. First published 2008. As reviewed and pictured: Softcover, 237 pages.
A few months ago, I was holding Pip, FCWR’s education Barn Owl (pictured below), at a public program. A woman came up to see Pip and talk with me and other volunteers about the birds. Then she started telling us about a wonderful book about a woman who had a Barn Owl as a pet. It was about an owl named Wesley and it was the most wonderful story. She urged us to read it. None of us had heard of the book and hearing about an owl as a pet of course set off some alarms in our minds, because, well, no one can have a Barn Owl or any other wild bird of prey as a pet. I figured it must be a fictional tale and not something I would want to read. Since that day, I have heard of this book a few more times from enthusiastic raptor program visitors.
Flash forward to several weeks ago, when Arthur and I stopped at Half Price Books and I made my usual bee-line to the natural history section. Wesley the Owl was among the bird books, and I recalled the random recommendations thrown my way during the past few months. I added the book to my *cough* pile of purchases and started reading it almost right away, sure that I would not enjoy it. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Wesley the Owl does not tell the story of a pet owl, but of a wild animal biologist who cares for a permanently injured, unreleasable Barn Owl, for the bird’s entire life, practically from hatching. The book is prefaced with a note from the author, explaining the uniqueness of her situation (which does not matter, legally speaking), changes in federal laws since she first took Wesley in, and the illegality of keeping any bird without a permit.
Stacey O’Brien was working at Caltech when she began caring for Wesley, a Barn Owl who suffered from permanent nerve damage in one of his wings, making him unreleasable. Wesley was a tiny chick, just 4 or 5 days old. O’Brien takes Wesley into her home and a totally unique relationship builds between them as the years pass. The Caltech biologist is able to observe Wesley’s behavior with a scientist’s eye, while at the same time cultivating a sort of personal, enduring emotional intimacy with the owl. O’Brien relates the story of her life with Wesley by sharing fascinating behavioral discoveries, tender personal interactions, and the inevitable hilarious mishaps that occur when living with a creature that survives on a steady diet of mice.
I started reading Wesley the Owl with an enormous bias but I ended up loving this memoir. The writing is informal, conversational, making the book a very easy and enjoyable read. I give Wesley the Owl 5 Goldfinches out of 5.
Here’s a link to a promotional video from the book’s publisher (warning: contains gratuitous owl-snuggling): Wesley The Owl, Stacey O’Brien.