Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Book Review: Wesley the Owl

After a whirlwind summer and autumn filled with birding and hiking, I have finally been able to hit the books and start digging into some of the reading material that was starting to pile up in my living room. I have enough books laying around, ready to be devoured, to last me months and months. Time to start cracking!

I recently finished Wesley the Owl by Stacy O’Brien, a delightful and remarkable memoir about a barn owl and the woman who was his caretaker for almost 20 years. It is a fascinating look into the mind of an owl and the relationship that can form between two species.

Stacy O’Brien, a biologist, adopted Wesley as a non releasable four day old owlet and lived with him for almost two decades. During that time, they forged an incredible bond, a bond that transcended their interspecies differences. This wonderful memoir is filled with humor, important life lessons, compassion and interesting facts.

Stacey was a research student when she took Wesley home. He, of course, became imprinted on her. Imprinting is when an animal takes its identity from whatever it perceives to be its parent. Many birds of prey in captivity are imprints and as a result, they can never be released into the wild. The danger to humans is too great and the chances of survival without proper training from a raptor parent is slim. Wesley thought of Stacey as his mother, and then his mate. His various sexual overtures towards her are a hoot (sorry, I couldn’t resist) to read about and her discomfort is priceless as she tries to explain Wesley’s “affection” to her professor.

This book carries you through the 19 years that they spent together. Some of it is very funny, and I especially enjoyed reading about Stacey’s various suitors and their reactions to Wesley. Perhaps my favorite anecdote is the one about the night Stacy was feeding wild barn owls and was approached by some rather sketchy characters. As she explained what she was doing, the boys were transformed into assistants as they became excited about her efforts and eagerly helped her out. Proof that education and awareness are key and I would bet that after that experience, every one of those boys developed a little bit of appreciation and compassion towards owls. Just as this book leads us into the mind of Wesley, and teaches us the “Way of the Owl”, these boys’ lives were probably changed for the better that night. Stacy’s life was absolutely changed for the better through her relationship with Wesley.

I think you will adore this book. Sweet, funny, heartbreaking, engaging and informative, you will not be able to put it down!

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