By Sue CorbettCaroline LeavittThailan PhamDANIELLE TRUSSONI and Vicki Sheff-Cahan
Updated September 15, 2008 12:00 PM

Stacey O’Brien



“To that which you tame, you owe your life,” a colleague tells CalTech biologist O’Brien in 1985 when she adopts Wesley, a newborn barn owl, to study at home. In the 19 extraordinary years O’Brien shares with Wesley, she kills and feeds him 28,000 mice, suffers one mouse dropped into her mouth while she’s sleeping (Wesley’s way of showing affection), and discovers what Harry Potter always knew: that owls are capable of emotions, nuanced communication, trust and loyalty. In between extraordinary owl tidbits, O’Brien presents fascinating looks at her quirky colleagues, including one postdoc who keeps thousands of black widow spiders in his office and another who happily lets his body be a breeding ground for parasites he picked up in the Amazon. O’Brien doesn’t recommend owls as pets for the average Joe, but her portrait of the complex and unforgettable animal she grew to love is irresistible.