WESLEY THE OWL

The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl

Stacey O'Brien

 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,

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 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.

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  • Free Press
  • Paperback
  • June 2009
  • 256 Pages
  • 9781416551775

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$15.00

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About Stacey O'Brien

 Stacey O’Brien is trained as a biologist specializing in wild-animal behavior. She graduated from Occidental College with a BS in biology and continued her education at Caltech. Stacey now works as a wildlife rescuer and rehabilitation expert with a variety of local animals, including the endangered brown pelican, owls, seabirds, possums, and songbirds. She lives in Southern California.

Praise

“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.”
—Sy Montgomery, author of The Good Good Pig

Wesley the Owl is beautiful, funny, transcendental, fascinating, and powerful. I loved this book!” —Lynne Cox, author of Grayson and Swimming to Antarctica

“Most ‘me and my bird’ stories are mildly entertaining at best, but Wesley the Owl is a different animal altogether. 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.”
—Kenn Kaufman, author of Kingbird Highway and Flights Against the Sunset

“[S]weet, quirky memoir….[T]his little guy’s such a character.” —USA Today

Discussion Questions

Do you think you could have done what the author did, devoting a good part of 19 years of her life to caring for an animal? 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?

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?

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 relationships between scientists and the animals play a role in their scientific research and discoveries?

Think about the ways in which Stacey and Wesley were able to communicate with each other. To what extent do you think they understood one another? How is this similar to and different from communication between people? Communication between people and their pets? What are the differences between relating to an animal that lives a solitary life and relating to an animal that is predisposed to live in a social group or pack? What are the differences between relating to an animal that is wild and an animal that is domesticated?

What scientific discoveries did Stacey make about barn owls, and what surprised you most about barn owls? Before you read this book, what was your impression of barn owls? Did reading this book change your mind, and if so, in what ways?