For the third book of the Heartwarming Animal Stories 2012 Reading Challenge, I chose Wesley the Owl by Stacey O'Brien.
Briefly, the book centers around Stacey O'Brien (a biologist and barn owl expert) who chronicles her rescue of an adorable, abandoned baby barn owl - and their astonishing and unprecedented nineteen-year life together.
The author states that "...since this story took place, federal laws protecting wild birds have become more stringent. It is against the law to keep any wild bird or indigenous wildlife without a permit."
Thankfully for Wesley, Stacey, and those interested in barn owls that these laws went into effect more recently - not when she first met Wesley. Because of Stacey's long-term commitment to his care, Wesley had a chance at living a full and happy life.
Had Stacey not adopted him, Wesley would never have been able to survive in the wild nor had such a long life. When he was found by a group of hikers, hhad nerve damage in one wing. He could have hunted sporadically, but not consistently enough to provide the nutrition he needed. Wesley also would not have had the stamina to fly for extended periods of time.
What I enjoyed about Wesley the Owl is that the author wove in so many interesting facts about barn owls throughout the book. For example, barn owls are "about 18 inches from head to tail. They weigh only about one pound full grown, but their wingspan is magnificent - averaging three feet, eight inches - almost four feet acrss. And barn owls are strikingly beautiful, their feathers are largely golden and white and their faces a startling white heart shape."
She said that owls are "very sensitive and easily stressed." Simple mishaps or accidents could upset an owl so much that they would turn their "head away from life" and die. She continued, "Owl mate for life, and when a owl's mate dies, he doesn't necessarily go out and find another partner. Instead, he might turn his head to face the tree in 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."
What's also interesting is that a female owl will lay about five eggs over a period of five days. The eggs hatch in the order that they were laid. Consequently, the oldest (and largest) owl baby gets more food. In the wild, the youngest (and smallest) owl babies die.
Stacey did a phenomenal job caring for Wesley. According to the book, "In the wild, barn owls do not live that long. Only one out of fifteen even lives through the first year." There is a multitude of reasons why this occurs: they get hit by cars; fly into live electrical wires; consume poisoned meat (e.g., a mouse that's eaten poison); experience the loss of their habitat; and are eaten by domestic cats and other predators.
Wesley lived for over 19 years. He was the equivalent of a 120 year old man. His impact on Stacey was clear as she looked back on her life and her own health challenges (she had a brain tumor which caused a host of problems and side effects): "He was my teacher, my companion, my child, my playmate, my reminder of God. Sometimes I even wondered if he was actually an angel who had been sent to live with me and help me through all the alone times."
I would highly recommend Wesley the Owl. It, by far, was my favorite book that I've read this year as part of the Heartwarming Animal Stories challenge.