by Stacy O’Brien
This is a true story of how a California wildlife biologist adopted a baby barn owl she called Wesley and raised him for nineteen years during the 1980’s and 90’s. Most rescued owls are sent to rehabilitation facilities and eventually released back into the wild. However, Wesley had an injured wing and probably wouldn’t have survived if he were released.
Stacy O’Brien, who’s grandfather was a traveling musician, became a child actress, singing in commercials, movies, and television as well as with John Denver, The Carpenters, and other artists. As a child, she screamed when her mother swept a spider off the wall and flushed it down the toilet. Because of this and her overall interest in and love of animals, it was only fitting that, after her career in show business, she receive a biology degree and a job at a California lab.
She explains how she made a nest for Wesley from blankets and other materials and placed it next to her in bed at night so she could train him to sleep when she did. He spent most of his days on perches she adapted for him. She describes how she killed mice and fed them to him and explains why mice are an important part of an owl’s diet. After Wesley turned a year old, she tried encouraging him to kill his own mice, but it never worked out.
She describes how, as a toddler, Wesley took an interest in water while watching her brush her teeth and wash her face at night before going to bed. He enjoyed washing his own face under the faucet while she did this. When he grew older, he liked taking baths in the tub, even though owls aren’t usually water birds.
She explains that since day care and baby-sitters were out of the question during Wesley’s infancy and toddler stages, she took him to work and everywhere else she went, including on a date, which was a disaster. There were several men in Stacy’s life, but relationships didn’t last long once they found out she was raising a barn owl.
She describes how Wesley taught himself to fly, his embarrassment when he crash landed, and his pride when he finally mastered the skill. She describes what are called owl no nos, when an owl turns his head from side to side to indicate that he’s about to attack something or someone. She explains that because birds of prey perceive aggression as a threat, Wesley could never be disciplined like a child because he would never trust her, even if she only raised her voice to him.
She explains how Wesley developed mating instincts, even though he wasn’t in the wild with other owls. One night when a female owl appeared at her window, Stacy was tempted to either let Wesley out or the other owl in so they could do their business. She realized though, that she would never have been able to tame the female owl, and Wesley couldn’t have survived in the wild, even with a mate.
Because of a criminal movement to free animals in captivity and leave them to fend for themselves, resulting in these animals’ deaths, Stacy felt she couldn’t tell anyone about Wesley except her close family and the men with whom she developed relationships. She learned later, after her grandmother’s passing, that she, too, raised a barn owl.
She explains how she changed jobs and locations and how Wesley adapted to these moves. She describes how she discovered a family of barn owls on a roof and tracked their movements and recorded their vocalizations. She discusses how she battled a serious illness as a result of an inoperable brain tumor, how Wesley sustained her, and how she recovered, though not completely. In the end, she explains how Wesley, like any other species, aged and eventually passed. She then discusses her process of writing this book, which includes photographs of Wesley.
I loved her description of how the father owl feeds his family. When baby owls are older, he hovers over the nest, dumps his payload of dead mice, and zooms off, just like a fighter plane. I also chuckled at her explanations of Wesley’s bodily fluids. When she explained that owls aren’t water birds, I remembered a stuffed owl I had as a kid when I was hospitalized for pneumonia and how it fell off my bed and into a pale of water that was part of my oxygen apparatus. At least Oliver, my owl, was easier to dry off.
Wesley the Owl is similar to my own memoir, which was published last year. My Ideal Partner is about how I met, married, and cared for my late husband Bill until he passed. It describes the trials and tribulations of being a caregiver, as does Stacy’s book. At the end of Wesley the Owl, Stacy describes the guilt she felt, thinking she could have done more for Wesley when he went downhill, and I felt the same way when Bill passed. Stacy and I have one other thing in common. My grandfather was also a traveling musician. If you enjoy heartwarming stories of unconditional love, you should read both books.
No, I haven’t found another man. Although my late husband Bill has been gone four years, I still love him. This Valentine’s Day, while others celebrate love for those still living, I still love a man who has left this world.
In light of Debbie Reynolds’ passing, I thought it would be nice to sing her 1957 hit, “Tammy,” during my performances at Sugarland Ridge and Westview last month. I now realize the song is also about me but in a different way. The following poem illustrates this. Click on the title to hear me read it.
Like the whispering cottonwood,
hooting owl, whippoorwill,
melting snow dripping off the roof announces it.
The crow in the distance caws it.
The sun in the sky shouts it.
The cold winter breeze sighs it.
Although he’s no longer a part of this world,
He’s still with me in spirit.
I long to be in his arms
where I’ll sing for joy.
Now here’s my rendition of “Tammy.” Happy Valentine’s Day.