Summary and book reviews of Wesley the Owl by Stacey O'Brien

Wesley the Owl

The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl

by Stacey O'Brien

Wesley the Owl
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2008, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2009, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry

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Book Summary

When biologist Stacey O'Brien first met a four-day-old baby barn owl with nerve damage in one wing, she knew he had no hope of surviving on his own in the wild, so gave him a permanent home living with her. This is the funny, poignant story of their two decades together.

On Valentine's Day 1985, biologist Stacey O'Brien first met a four-day-old baby barn owl -- a fateful encounter that would turn into an astonishing 19-year saga. With nerve damage in one wing, the owlet's ability to fly was forever compromised, and he had no hope of surviving on his own in the wild. O'Brien, a young assistant in the owl laboratory at Caltech, was immediately smitten, promising to care for the helpless owlet and give him a permanent home. Wesley the Owl is the funny, poignant story of their dramatic two decades together.

With both a tender heart and a scientist's eye, O'Brien studied Wesley's strange habits intensively and first-hand -- and provided a mice-only diet that required her to buy the rodents in bulk (28,000 over the owl's lifetime). As Wesley grew, she snapped photos of him at every stage like any proud parent, recording his life from a helpless ball of fuzz to a playful, clumsy adolescent to a gorgeous, gold-and-white, macho adult owl with a heart-shaped face and an outsize personality that belied his 18-inch stature. Stacey and Wesley's bond deepened as she discovered Wesley's individual personality, subtle emotions, and playful nature that could also turn fiercely loyal and protective -- though she could have done without Wesley's driving away her would-be human suitors!

O'Brien also brings us inside the prestigious research community, a kind of scientific Hogwarts where resident owls sometimes flew freely from office to office and eccentric, brilliant scientists were extraordinarily committed to studying and helping animals; all of them were changed by the animal they loved. As O'Brien gets close to Wesley, she makes important discoveries about owl behavior, intelligence, and communication, coining the term "The Way of the Owl" to describe his inclinations: he did not tolerate lies, held her to her promises, and provided unconditional love, though he was not beyond an occasional sulk. When O'Brien develops her own life-threatening illness, the biologist who saved the life of a helpless baby bird is herself rescued from death by the insistent love and courage of this wild animal.

Enhanced by wonderful photos, Wesley the Owl is a thoroughly engaging, heartwarming, often funny story of a complex, emotional, non-human being capable of reason, play, and, most important, love and loyalty. It is sure to be cherished by animal lovers everywhere.

1
The Way of the Owl

On a rainy Valentine's Day morning in 1985, I fell in love with a four-day-old barn owl. I'd been working at Caltech (California Institute of Technology) for about a year when one of the scientists called me into his office. He mentioned that there was an owl with an injured wing, and said, "Stacey, he needs a permanent home."

The little owl was so tiny and helpless he couldn't even lift his head or keep himself warm. His eyes weren't open yet, and except for a tuft of white down feathers on his head and three rows of fluff along his back, his body was pink and naked. I was smitten beyond reason by his hopelessly goofy appearance. He was the most wonderful creature I'd ever seen, gorgeous in his helplessness. And, oh, was he uncoordinated. His long, lanky legs stuck out awkwardly, and his oversized talons erratically scratched anyone who held him. His scrawny body had two little nubs that would eventually become wings, and his ungainly pterodactyl-like head ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Do you think you could have done what the author did, devoting a good part of 19 years of her life to caring for her pet? Have you ever had a pet who demanded as much time, money, attention, and love as Wesley did? Did the way the pet and you relate to each other change as you both got older? Did your relationship with your pet change how you viewed the world?
  2. How did Wesley help Stacey in her own life after she saved his? How did he save her life? What did she learn from Wesley that no other animal could have taught her?
  3. What part of the book did you think was the funniest and what part did you think was the grossest? The biologists at the lab where Stacey works are very comfortable with animals. How do the...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

O'Brien's story of her profound friendship with a barn owl is strange, exciting, lovely and important. A much-needed corrective to our sanitized, human-centric view of animals as machines or as pets that can be trained to perform stupid tricks, Wesley the Owl reasserts the powerful and sometimes icky otherworldliness and breathtaking complexity of nature. Prepare to be enlightened, disgusted, delighted and humbled.   (Reviewed by Jo Perry).

Full Review Members Only (766 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This memoir will captivate animal lovers.

Author Blurb Don Kroodsma, author of The Singing Life of Birds: An Intimate Guide to the Private Lives of Birds: How, When, Why, and Where Birds Sing, Professor Emeritus at the University of Massechusetts, Amherst.
The best of love stories between two intelligent beings, told (by the human) with good humor and remarkable insights into the mind of an owl- I couldn't put it down.

Author Blurb Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado; author of The Emotional Lives of Animals, Animals Matter, and Wild Justice: Reflections on Empathy, Fair Play, and Morality in Animals
A heart-wrenching and heart-felt story of the deep, reciprocal, and enduring emotional bonds that developed between Stacey O'Brien and her long time friend. It's an inspiring example of how animals are able to reveal to us who they really are and who we really are when we allow them to express themselves openly and safely. Profoundly passionate and personal, this remarkable book shows how we can all increase our compassion footprint in a human-dominated world. Read it and share widely. I sure will.

Author Blurb Sy Montgomery, author of The Good Good Pig
I love Wesley the Owl! Not since Konrad Lorenz have I read such an honest, vivid, and revealing account of the rich and complex life of an individual bird. Stacey O'Brien has captured the essence of the soul of an unforgettable owl. Affectionate, quirky, joyous and wise, Wesley shows us the Way of the Owl - the way to God and grace. This book is destined to become a classic, and will deepen importantly the way we understand birds.

Reader Reviews

Sylvia Edwards

Wesley the Owl
Stacey O'Brien, author, in my opinion, wrote an awesome story. It's the story of a Biologist and the barn owl she adopts when he is 4 days old. Stacy and Wesley have a 19 year relationship. They live together in her home, sleep together, communicate....   Read More

Linda Freedman

wesley the owl
This was a very interesting book and I loved the owl. I felt like he was right next to me as I was reading this book. I could relate to Stacey as we have a talking Mynah bird as a pet. He learns a lot from us and is teaching us new things every day. ...   Read More

Sharon

A book not to be forgotten
This book engulfed me. I laughed, I cried, and I would talk about it to everyone I encountered for weeks afterwards. Over a year later, I made it my book club selection as I found the book so memorable and refreshing from the numerous others I had ...   Read More

Joni

I loved Wesley the Owl!
I read this book in two days and found it so refreshing. Although you will learn a great deal about barn owls by reading it, the book is not just for animal lovers. I think the book addresses the joys and hardships of life and how love will get you...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Helping Injured Birds

The WildBirds.com website offers the following advice if you come across an injured bird:

If you find an injured bird, make sure it is really injured before you act. Often the bird is simply stunned. It may fly away in a few minutes if you leave it alone. Birds often become stunned by flying into glass windows.

If the bird has a broken wing or other serious injury, contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center. Be VERY careful around Hawks and Owls. Their sharp claws and beaks can do a lot of damage! Do not handle them yourself. Do not give an injured bird food or water. Keep children and pets away from the injured bird.

To transport the bird . . . place the injured bird in a box with air...

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