Wednesday, 13 October 2010

REVIEW: Wesley - The Story of a Remarkable Owl, by Stacey O'Brien (4.5*)

(Constable, 2009)

I am a huge barn owl fan, so I knew I had to buy this book as soon as I saw it! I've already adopted a barn owl called Gilbert from the National Falconry School, and see him most weekends at their display outside our bookshop (and yes, I do talk to him!), so a whole book about someone who raised a barn owl from a baby sounded wonderful!

Stacey O'Brien's life changed forever the day she was given the opportunity to adopt a baby barn owl from Caltech's owl research department, where she had been working for about a year. The owl was only four days old, looked a bit like a baby dinosaur and hadn't even opened its eyes yet, but she fell head over heels in love and agreed to take it home. Although Wesley had an injured wing and could never be released into the wild, he settled right into life with his new mum. This is their story...

Wesley is a wonderful character, and the intense bond between human and owl shines out from every page. I giggled at so many of O'Brien's stories - of Wesley's first attempts to fly and his outrage when she dares to laugh at his tangled crash-landings, of his unprecedented love for water (which gets particularly interesting when he decides he wants to share her bath), of his attempts to woo her by building her nests and trying to feed her mice - and teared up a few times too. O'Brien really knows her stuff, so on top of the Wesley's story there is a whole lot of interesting information about owls, as well as a few wider titbits from the natural sciences as a whole and a tantalising insight into what it's like to work for a big research institute like Caltech.

Wesley and Stacey learned a lot from each other over the nineteen years they spent together, and their close partnership helped bring about a new understanding of elements of barn owl life that had never been accessible before. It is a charming, heartwarming and amusing story, as well as an informative look at the world of the barn owl, and it might just be one of my favourite books this year!

  • "Like all barn owls, the baby smelled like maple syrup but not as sweet, something closer to butterscotch and comfy pillow all in one.  Many biologists at Caltech, where I both worked and took classes, would bury their faces in their owls' necks to breathe in their delicate, sweet scent.  It was intoxicating."
  • "... owls mate for life, and when an owl's mate dies, he doesn't necessarily go out and find another partner.  Instead, he might turn his head to face the tree on which he's sitting and stare fixedly in a deep depression until he dies.  Such profound grief is indicative of how passionately owls can feel and how devoted they are to their mates."
  • "His 'tribe' had been here, probably living very close to where we were at that moment, for some 1.6 million years.  What really blew my mind was that, in all that time, every single one of his ancestors had successfully bred and had a baby survive to breed.  For 1.6 million years.  There wasn't a single break in the chain, or he wouldn't have been here.  Of course, this is true for every one of us who is on the planet - which seems like an incredible miracle."

Source: I bought this book from Amazon UK.