Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl

by Stacey O'Brien

Reviewed by Grant McCreary on February 11th, 2009.

cover of Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl, by Stacey O'Brien

Publisher: Free Press

Date: August, 2008

Illustrations: black-and-white photographs

Binding: hardcover with dustjacket

Pages: 240

Size: 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″

MSRP: $23.00

While checking out this book to see if it was something I would be interested in, I skimmed through the publicity quotes/mini-reviews on the back cover. I don’t normally pay too much attention to these, but one in particular caught my eye: “Most ‘me and my bird’ stories are mildly entertaining at best, but Wesley the Owl is a different animal altogether.” Honestly, the first thing I noticed was that this quote was from Kenn Kaufman, well-known birder and author. That alone was almost enough me. But I am also of the same opinion about the “me and my bird” stories. So if this one was different, then maybe it was worth a read. And indeed it was.

This is the story of Stacey O’Brien and Wesley, the Barn Owl that she raised from a very young hatchling. Not just anyone is qualified, or now legally able, to keep a wild bird such as this. But Stacey and Wesley were perfect for each other. The owl was born with a problem with its wing, such that it would be difficult for it to hunt for itself. Thus, it needed human help. But no zoo or research center had room for him. So it came down to Stacey to care for him. Stacey was an owl researcher at CalTech, and her boss gave her the owl essentially as an assignment. Much was known about Barn Owls, but this was an opportunity to learn about them in a completely new manner. Stacey was to keep detailed notes on her owl and his development, and even record some of his vocalizations.

Of course, Wesley became so much more than a mere assignment. Many are familiar with the relationship and understanding that the pet and owner can have with each other. It was the same here, as Wesley bonded to Stacey in a manner that we usually associate with dogs, cats, and other “more advanced” animals. Actually, it was even more than that, as the owl eventually came to regard Stacey as his mate. (You might ask ‘How do we know what this bird thought?’ Let’s just say that he made his intentions indisputable. You’ll have to read about that yourself). They grew to understand each other so well that it was, frankly, almost beyond belief. Stacey learned to associate minute changes in vocalizations with Wesley’s intentions. Likewise, it was apparent that Wesley could also understand her. For instance, Stacey was surprised to find that Wesley was eventually able to grasp some understanding of time such that when she told him that they would play in two hours, in two hours time if she did not keep her word, he would throw a fit.

One manner in which this story differs from most similar ones is in the information the author imparts. As the reader, you are not only privy to an incredible relationship between these two beings, but you will also learn a great deal. As an owl researcher, the author is not only able to take better care of Wesley, she can also teach us about owls in general. There is also a chapter, almost entirely devoid of Wesley, that chronicles a day in the life of a biologist. In it, O’Brien takes you through a typical day at her workplace. With all of the animals she worked with, not to mention a plethora of colorful human characters all around, that had to be one of the least boring jobs on the planet. If she has more stories like the ones in this fascinating chapter, they would make a fantastic book.

This memoir is very well written, especially impressive from a first-time author. You feel like you are right there with Stacey and Wesley and will laugh and, yes, cry along with them as well. You will likely finish the book all too soon, and wish there could be more.

Kaufman’s quote, which I started earlier, continues:

Stacey O’Brien got to know this owl with a unique combination of deep scientific understanding and rare emotional intensity, and the result is stunning, unforgettable. Read this book and you will never see owls, or humans, in the same light again.

He was right.

Category: Miscellaneous

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